Key point: The A-10 has served in most of America’s post–Cold War conflicts, from the Balkans to Afghanistan.
One of the most iconic airplanes in the U.S. Air Force’s flying inventory is the A-10 Thunderbolt, also affectionately known as the “Warthog.” Designed to mow down rows of invading Soviet tanks during an anticipated World War III, the A-10 has served in most of America’s post–Cold War conflicts, from the Balkans to Afghanistan. A new Pentagon contract to manufacture new wingsets promises to keep a minimum of 280 aircraft flying into the foreseeable future, even as questions persist whether the A-10 can survive over modern battlefields.
In 1967, the U.S. Air Force initiated the A-X program, designed to field a new generation close air support (CAS) aircraft. This was the first for the air force, which had traditionally used fighters and light bombers (including the A-10’s namesake, the P-47 Thunderbolt) in the CAS role. Although the Air Force’s current stable of fighters, including the famous “100 series” planes favored speed above all else, A-X traded speed for survivability, maneuverability at low speeds, loiter time and, most importantly, lethality. After a flyoff against the Northrop A-9, the Fairchild A-10 was picked and the first jets delivered in 1974.
Recommended: The Story of the F-52 Fighter.