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How Deadly is America’s A-10?

The A-10 Thunderbolt II has been a formidable asset in the US Air Force’s arsenal for decades. Its origins can be tied all the way back to the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, when the Military began looking for more intense Close Air Support (CAS) options. The original requirements for the plane from the Air Force included “extreme survivability.” The result is this massive tank of an airplane below, the A-10.

An A10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the Air National Guard’s 190th Fighter Squadron, 124th Fighter Wing executes an austere landing on the Freedom Landing Strip, June 5, 2019, at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. The IDANG is participating in Green Flag-West with flying operations at the NTC in support of the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered at Boise, Idaho.

The GUN

The A-10’s most notorious feature is also its most deadly – the massive 30 mm canon mounted directly under the pilot. The effects of this canon are pure devastation. Each round is crafted from depleted uranium, which means they are incredibly dense and strong. Traveling twice as fast as most projectiles fired from aircraft, that combination of speed and density takes the impact of these shots to whole new levels.

The A-10’s GAU-8 Avenger Auto-Canon displayed next to a VW car for scale.

The canon on the A-10 can fire up to 3,900 rounds per minute. Yes, that’s about 65 rounds every single second. 65 rounds of depleted uranium, delivered timely and accurately, every single second. Unsurprisingly that spells some pretty bad news for any tanks or other armored units in the area. For this reason, and many more, the A-10 is one of the most deadly aircraft for enemy ground troops in the US Air Force.

Why is the A-10 so formidable?

So much of the A-10’s advantage comes from the “extreme survivability” aspect the Air Force requested. Specifically the A-10 is designed to take direct hits from armor-piercing and high-explosive projectiles, and keep on flying! The pilot is protected by the “Bathtub,” a 1200-lb titanium shield capable of withstanding a hit from projectiles up to 23 mm in size. The cockpit windows are also bullet-proof, protecting the pilot against small arms fire from the ground.

The pilot is protected by the “Bathtub,” a 1200-lb titanium shield

The A-10’s unusual design also lends to the overall survivability of the aircraft. The plane features two large turbofan engines mounted up and behind the center of the jet. Having the engines positioned where they are allows the A-10 to operate on unimproved airports, meaning this awesome combat aircraft can literally lift off from a dirt road.

A-10 Thunderbolt II In Action

The end result of all of the above, extreme survivability, an incredible weapons system, and unique overall design, combined to create a one-of-a-kind Close Air Support asset for the US Military. Fortunately we’re the only military in the world that gets to enjoy air support from such a cunning and deadly platform.

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II with the U.S. Air Force Weapons School, Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., fires its 30mm GAU-8/A Avenger Gatling cannon during close air support training mission Sept. 23, 2011, over the Nevada Test and Training Range. U.S. Air Force Weapons School students participate in many combat training missions over the NTTR during the six-month, graduate-level instructor course held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

The A-10 will hopefully remain flying for the US Military for decades to come. Despite several efforts to ditch the airframe in favor of less costly and less capable options, so far the Thunderbolt II has come up on top. Its Close Air Support skills and capabilities are just too fantastic to pass up.