With the US imminent donation of US-built F-16 Fighting Falcon strike aircraft to Ukraine, common sense eventually prevailed. Various western nations are preparing to send them as soon as they can, and the training of Ukrainian pilots to fly them has begun.
What other aircraft might be sent? The Swedish Saab Gripen might suits Ukrainian needs. The Gripen is cost effective when compared to F-16 and also is able to operate from makeshift runways and even ordinary roads. However, no Gripens have been offered to date.
Another aircraft the UkrAF might benefit from is the US-built A-10 Thunderbolt II, other wise known as the “Warthog”. It entered service with the USAF way back in 1977 but has been upgraded since then. There is little doubt that it still has a place on the modern battlefield.
The A-10 is designed specifically to support friendly ground troops by attacking enemy tanks, armoured vehicles, and fortifications, it boasts a fearsome 30 mm rotary cannon and can mount a variety of weapons on its under wing pylons.
More importantly for Ukraine is that it is also designed to take off and land from relatively short runways, permitting operation from airstrips close to the front lines, and has a relatively simple design which enables it to be maintained with minimal facilities. It can also take considerable punishment.
Sounds ideal for Ukraine? Well, yes and no. There’s no doubt about its performance; its 30 mm cannon rips up anything in its sights and it can also carry a lethal array of bombs and missiles.
On the other hand it is not invulnerable. Operating at low level in a hostile anti-air environment is a tough gig; four A-10s were shot down by Iraqi surface-to-air missiles during the first Gulf war and another eleven hit by anti-aircraft artillery. Another was shot down over Baghdad in 2003. In both cases the anti-air environment was considerably more benign than it is in Ukraine.
So the supply of A-10s to Ukraine would not be a war-winner per se. They would need to be deployed as part of an offensive package including aircraft for suppression of enemy air defences, air-to-air interceptors, airborne radar warning aircraft etc. There is also the logistic tail of ground crew, repairs, and spares backup.
It just so happens that there may be a ready supply of A-10s which has become available recently. The USAF began to retire its Warthogs earlier this year. So the aircraft are becoming available, and I’m sure Zelensky would welcome them if the offer to supply them was made.
On balance, I think they would be a welcome addition to Ukraine’s air combat capabilities. Their arrival could, though, take many months if not years before they might be operational.
But nobody knows how long the Russo-Ukraine conflict will last, and I think the redundant Warthogs would be better off in Ukraine than rusting away in some aircraft bone yard in Arizona, don’t you?
Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at www.DefenceReview.uk
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