The A-10 Warthog: Now a Navy-Killer?

By U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos - 130822-F-FT438-420, Public Domain,
May 24, 2019 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: A-10A-10 WarthogNaviesU.S. NavyPLANRussian Navy

The A-10 Warthog: Now a Navy-Killer?

Tom Clancy predicted it.

“The brilliant light dazzled him, but he could see the graceful lines of the Soviet warship as she was turning hard on the choppy seas, her men running along the deck like ants.”

In April 2016, the U.S. Air Force deployed four A-10 Warthog attack jets to The Philippines for patrols over the South China Sea, where China has been building artificial islands and sailing warships in order to expand its territorial claims on mineral-rich waters.

(This article by David Axe originally appeared at War is Boring in 2016.)

The low- and slow-flying A-10 — the Air Force’s premier tank-killer — might seem like an odd choice for a maritime patrol plane, especially in air space where there’s a good chance of running into supersonic Chinese fighters.

Indeed, the Warthogs’ deployment seems to be a matter of convenience for the U.S. military, which has struggled to field an adequate number of fighters. “Given the demand around the world, a tactical fighter squadron is a tactical fighter squadron is a tactical fighter squadron,” Bob Work, the deputy defense secretary, told Breaking Defense.

But the radar-less A-10 is capable of fighting at sea, provided some other plane does the sensor work. Warthogs gunned enemy patrol boats during the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011. And 27 years earlier in 1984, the late novelist Tom Clancy described A-10s taking on the Soviet navy in his classic technothriller The Hunt for Red October.

With a rogue Soviet commander steering his high-tech nuclear submarine toward the United States, aiming for asylum, Soviet and American air and naval forces grapple over the Atlantic — coming dangerously close to sparking World War III.

A Soviet surface action group led by the nuclear battlecruiser Kirov steams just off the U.S. East Coast. The Americans intend to send a message — back off. A hundred Air Force fighters fly toward Kirov, seeming to the battlecruiser’s radar operators like an “alpha strike,” a major aerial anti-ship raid.

“It was exactly that — and a feint,” Clancy writes. “The real mission belonged to the low-level team of four.” That is, a flight of four A-10s from the Maryland Air National Guard, which today still operates the type in real life.

Armed with a full load of depleted-uranium ammunition for their 30-millimeter cannons plus underwing Rockeye cluster bombs, the Warthogs of Linebacker flight fly just 100 feet above the waves in order to stay off Kirov’s radar screens, their part-time pilots observing radio silence to complete their stealthy profiles.

The lead A-10 pilot, Richardson, is an airline captain by day. “So far as he knew, the Hog had never been used for maritime strike missions,” Clancy describes Richardson thinking. “It was no surprise she’d be good at it. Her antitank munitions would be effective against ships. Her cannon slugs and Rockeye clusters were designed to shred armored battle tanks, and he had no doubts what they would do to thin-hulled warships.

“Too bad this wasn’t for real. It was about time somebody taught Ivan a lesson.”

Approaching the Soviet ships, an Air Force E-3 Sentry radar early-warning plane guiding them via one-way radio messages, the A-10s spread out across a 30-mile long formation. Soviet radars begin to ping them.

Richardson “began to maneuver his aircraft radically, jinking up, down, left, right, in no particular pattern. It was only a game, but there was no sense in giving Ivan an easy time.”

Five hundred yards from Kirov, Richardson flips a switch, releasing decoy flares from his jet’s countermeasures pod. “All four Linebacker aircraft acted within seconds. Suddenly Kirov was inside a box of blue-white magnesium light. Richardson pulled back on his stick, banking into a climbing turn past the battlecruiser.

“The brilliant light dazzled him, but he could see the graceful lines of the Soviet warship as she was turning hard on the choppy seas, her men running along the deck like ants.”

If we were serious, you’d all be dead now — get the message? Richardson thinks.

Image: Wikimedia