Just five years ago, the US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet looked to be dead and buried. The then chief of the service Gen Mark Welsh — himself a former ‘Warthog’ driver — said the USAF had to retire the A-10C completely in order to make substantial budget cuts.

Yet in Iraq and Syria a new war was erupting — tackling so-called Islamic State (IS) — a mission for which the A-10 was perfectly suited. Eventually, the USAF capitulated and deployed a squadron of ‘Warthogs’, which went on to make an indelible mark on the campaign. It added fuel to the fire as lawmakers in Washington blocked the USAF from divesting itself of the A-10.

Fairchild-Republic A-10C Thunderbolt II. Image - Jamie Hunter
The 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron had all but halted any new A-10 work for the active-duty force, but in 2016 it got back to business. Jamie Hunter

The A-10 retirement plan had already started a knock-on effect and both the program office and operational testing had been shuttered as part of the drawdown. By the summer of 2016 this was all being spun back up, including a renewed impetus in the development of new ‘kit’ for the A-10. Now, the A-10 Common Fleet Initiative will keep the aircraft alive and pushing through the 2030s, designed to bring about the ultimate incarnation of the ‘Warthog’ — able to meet the challenges of future conflict.

Adding the Boeing GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) started this summer, which gives the A-10 a new standoff capability. With a multi-target engagement capability the ‘Warthog’ will theoretically be able to target 18 weapons individually, making it a unique aircraft that fits well into the fourth/fifth-generation mix. Another plan is to pull out the central ‘six-pack’ of analogue flight instruments in the cockpit and replace this with a single large electronic primary flight display, which will work in conjunction with the two older multi-function color displays.

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