At the end of the 60s, the basis of the strike power of the tactical aviation of the US Air Force was made up of the F-100, F-105 and F-4 supersonic fighter-bombers, optimized for the delivery of tactical nuclear charges and strikes with conventional ammunition against large stationary targets: defense nodes, bridges, storage facilities for weapons and fuels and lubricants, headquarters, communications centers and airfields. The anti-tank capabilities of supersonic combat aircraft were very limited, and were limited to the destruction of tanks in places of accumulation or on the march with the help of cluster bombs with cumulative submunitions.
In the second half of the 60s, a qualitative strengthening of Soviet tank power began. By that time, the USSR already outnumbered all NATO countries in the number of tanks in Europe. This gap became even more noticeable when the T-62 with a 115-mm smoothbore gun began to arrive in the tank divisions deployed in the Western Group of Forces. Even more worried about the NATO generals was the information about the adoption in the USSR of a new generation of T-64 tanks with multilayer frontal armor and the world's first tracked BMP-1, capable of operating in the same battle formations with tanks. Simultaneously with the T-62, the first self-propelled ZSU-23-4 "Shilka" entered the air defense units of the Ground Forces of the regimental level. In the same 1965, in the air defense units of the army-front-line subordination, the mobile Krug air defense systems began to supplant the SA-75 medium-range air defense systems. The air defense of the tank and motorized rifle divisions of the Soviet Army was to be provided by the medium-range air defense system "Cube", which was put into service in 1967. The main elements of the "Circle" and "Cuba" were placed on a tracked chassis. In 1968, the Strela-1 mobile short-range air defense system was adopted, which were used in conjunction with the ZSU-23-4. In 1971, supplies of the Osa air defense missile system on a floating conveyor began. Thus, the Soviet tank and motorized rifle divisions of the first echelon, simultaneously with the rearmament to new tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, received an anti-aircraft umbrella, consisting of mobile ZSU and air defense systems, capable of accompanying troops on the march and providing air defense over the battlefield, being in the second echelon.
Naturally, the Americans, who ruled the North Atlantic Alliance, could not come to terms with this state of affairs. Indeed, in addition to numerical strength, the armies of the countries of the Eastern Bloc could receive a qualitative superiority. That was fraught with the defeat of the NATO armed forces in Europe in the event of a conflict with the limited use of tactical nuclear weapons. In the 1950s, nuclear weapons were viewed by the American armed forces as a universal means of armed struggle, capable, among other things, of solving tactical tasks on the battlefield. However, about a decade and a half later, there was a certain revision of views on the role of tactical nuclear charges. This was largely due to the saturation of tactical nuclear weapons with the missile and aviation units of the Soviet Army. After reaching an approximate nuclear parity with the United States, and putting on combat duty with the USSR Strategic Missile Forces a significant number of ICBMs with a high degree of readiness for launch, an overly active exchange of strikes with tactical nuclear charges could with a high degree of probability lead to a full-scale nuclear conflict using the entire strategic arsenal. Therefore, the Americans put forward the concept of "limited nuclear war", which implied the use of a relatively small number of tactical charges in a limited area. Tactical nuclear bombs, missiles and landmines were seen as the last trump card capable of stopping the advance of Soviet tank armies. But even in this case, even several dozen relatively low-power nuclear explosions in densely populated Western Europe inevitably led to extremely undesirable consequences that could affect many more decades. Even if NATO forces with the help of tactical nuclear weapons managed to repel the onslaught of the armies of the Warsaw Pact countries and this would not lead to the growth of a global conflict, the Europeans would have to rake up radioactive ruins for a long time, and many territories would simply become uninhabitable.
In connection with the need to counter Soviet tanks, the United States and the leading NATO countries were actively developing anti-tank weapons, and aviation was to play a special role in this. By the end of the 60s, it became clear that combat helicopters armed with guided anti-tank missiles could become effective tank destroyers, but we will talk about this in the next part of the review.
Among tactical aircraft, subsonic attack aircraft had the greatest anti-tank potential. In contrast to the USSR, in the postwar period in the USA they did not abandon the creation of jet attack aircraft. But the lightly armored subsonic attack aircraft A-4 Skyhawk and A-7 Corsair II, which had the ability to successfully destroy point stationary and mobile targets, were very vulnerable to modern front-line air defense systems. As a result, American generals, after comprehending the experience of the combat use of ground attack aircraft in the Middle East and Vietnam, came to the conclusion that it was necessary to create a well-protected highly maneuverable combat aircraft capable of operating at low altitudes over the battlefield and in the near rear of the enemy. The US Air Force command has developed a vision of an armored attack aircraft, conceptually close to the Soviet Il-2 and the German Hs 129 - relatively simple aircraft with heavy armor and powerful built-in cannons. The priority task of the new attack aircraft was to be the fight against tanks and other small mobile targets on the battlefield. For this, the attack aircraft had to have high maneuverability at low altitudes. The maneuverable characteristics were also supposed to provide the ability to evade attacks from fighters and anti-aircraft missiles. Due to the relatively low flight speed, maneuverability and good visibility from the cockpit, the attack aircraft pilot could independently visually search for small targets and hit them from the first approach. According to preliminary calculations, firing from a promising aircraft gun of 27-35 mm caliber at a target of the "tank" type, at a flight altitude of 100-200 m, it could be effective from a distance of 1500-2000 m.
To develop a promising highly protected attack aircraft, the American military department adopted the AX program (Attack Experimental - experimental attack aircraft) for implementation. According to preliminary requirements, the attack aircraft was to be armed with a rapid-fire 30-mm cannon, develop a maximum speed of 650-800 km / h, carry a load weighing at least 7300 kg on external suspensions and have a combat radius of 460 km. Initially, projects of turboprop aircraft were considered along with jet aircraft, but after the Air Force raised the speed characteristics to 740 km / h, they were eliminated. After examining the submitted projects, the YA-9A from Northrop and the YA-10A from Fairchild Republic were approved for construction.
At the end of May 1972, an experienced YA-9A attack aircraft took off for the first time. It was a cantilever overhead monoplane powered by two Lycoming YF102-LD-100 engines with 32.1kN thrust. The aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of 18,600 kg in horizontal flight developed a speed of 837 km / h. The combat load placed on ten hardpoints is 7260 kg. Combat radius of action - 460 km. On serial attack aircraft, the cockpit was supposed to be a titanium capsule, but on two copies built for testing, it was made of duralumin, and the weight of the armor was simulated using ballast. Testing of the YA-9A and YA-10A armor took place at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. There, armored elements were fired from Soviet machine guns of 12, 7-14, 5-mm and 23-mm anti-aircraft guns.
Compared to the YA-10A rival, the YA-9A attack aircraft had better maneuverability and maximum flight speed. The security level of the two machines was approximately the same. However, in January 1973, the victory was awarded to YA-10A. According to the generals of the US Air Force, this machine, as having better fuel efficiency and more technological and easy to maintain, was more suitable for adoption. But the maximum speed of the YA-10A was noticeably lower than that of the YA-9A. On the serial A-10A, the ground speed is limited to 706 km / h. At the same time, the cruising speed is 560 km / h. In fact, the speed characteristics of the jet attack aircraft, which were put into service in the early 70s, did not differ from the piston fighter-bombers used at the final stage of World War II.
The first flight of the YA-10A prototype took place on May 10, 1972. Already on February 15, 1975, tests of the first car from the pre-production batch began. In September, for the first time, a standard weapon was installed on the A-10A - a 30-mm GAU-8 / A Avenger air cannon. Prior to this, the aircraft flew with 20 mm M61 cannons.
A number of aviation publications say that the A-10A attack aircraft was built around a seven-barreled cannon with a rotating block of barrels. The cannon and its systems took up half of the aircraft's fuselage. Since the GAU-8 / A is installed in the center of the fuselage, the nose landing gear had to be shifted slightly to the side. It is believed that the 30-mm GAU-8 / A Avenger cannon from General Electric has become the most powerful American post-war aviation artillery system. The aviation 30-mm seven-barreled artillery system is not only very powerful, but also technically very advanced. The perfection of the GAU-8 / A can be judged by the ratio of the mass of ammunition to the mass of the entire gun mount. For the gun mount of the A-10A attack aircraft, this value is 32%. In part, the weight of the ammunition was reduced by using aluminum casings instead of steel or brass.
The weight of the GAU-8 / A cannon is 281 kg. At the same time, the mass of the cannon installation with a drum for 1350 shells is 1830 kg. Rate of fire - 4200 rds / min. The initial velocity of an armor-piercing projectile weighing 425 g is 1070 m / s. The shells used in the GAU-8 / A are equipped with plastic guide belts, which allows not only to reduce the wear of the barrels, but also to increase the muzzle velocity. On combat attack aircraft, the rate of fire of the gun was limited to 3900 rds / min, and the ammunition usually does not exceed 1100 shells. The burst duration is limited to one or two seconds, while the cannon manages to "spit out" 65-130 shells towards the target. The resource of the barrel block is 21,000 rounds - that is, the entire resource at a rate of fire of 3900 rounds / min can be used up in five and a half minutes of firing. In practice, of course, the gun is not capable of long-term continuous fire. The gun mount firing mode at the maximum allowable rate - 10 two-second bursts with cooling for 60-80 seconds.
To defeat armored targets, PGU-14 / B projectiles with a depleted uranium core are used. Also, the ammunition load includes PGU-13 / B fragmentation shells weighing 360 g. Usually in the ammunition load of the cannon, there are four armor-piercing shells for one fragmentation shell, which reflects the anti-tank orientation of the attack aircraft.
According to American data, an armor-piercing projectile at a distance of 500 m normally penetrates 69 mm of armor, and at a distance of 1000 m - 38 mm. During tests carried out in 1974 at a training ground near the Nellis airbase, it was possible to successfully hit the M48 and T-62 tanks installed as targets with the fire of 30-mm cannons. The latter were captured by Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Soviet tank was successfully hit from above and on the side at a distance of less than 1200 m, the hits of the shells caused the fuel to ignite and the ammunition rack to explode. At the same time, the firing accuracy turned out to be quite high: at a distance of 1200 m, about 60% of the shells hit the tank.
I would also like to dwell on shells with a U-238 core. There is a widespread opinion among ordinary people about the high radioactivity of this isotope, which is absolutely not true. The radioactivity of the U-238 is about 28 times less than that of the weapons-grade U-235. Considering that U-238 has not only high density, but also pyrophoric and has a high incendiary effect when piercing armor, this makes it a very suitable material for making the cores of armor-piercing shells.
But, despite the low radioactivity, armored vehicles fired at landfills with shells with uranium cores are subject to special disposal or storage at guarded sites. This is due to the fact that the uranium dust formed during the interaction of the core with the armor is very toxic. In addition, U-238 itself, although weak, is still radioactive. Moreover, it emits "alpha particles". Alpha radiation is trapped by ordinary cotton cloth, but dust particles are extremely dangerous if ingested - by inhaling contaminated air, or with food or water. In this regard, in a number of American states, the use of uranium-core shells at landfills is prohibited.
The entry of serial attack aircraft into the combat squadrons began in March 1976. The production A-10A was officially named Thunderbolt II after the famous P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bomber of World War II. The aircraft is unofficially known in the US Air Force as the Warthog. The first A-10A squadron reached operational readiness in October 1977.
By the time of its creation, the A-10A had no analogues and significantly surpassed other combat aircraft in terms of security. The total armor weight of the Thunderbolt II was 1309 kg. The cockpit armor reliably protected the pilot from hitting anti-aircraft ammunition of 14, 5-23 mm caliber. Vital structural elements were covered with less important ones. A feature of the A-10A was the layout of the engines in separate nacelles on the sides of the aft fuselage. The advantage of this scheme is to reduce the likelihood of foreign objects from the runway and powder gases getting into the air intakes when firing a cannon. We also managed to reduce the thermal signature of the engines. Such an arrangement of the power plant makes it possible to increase the convenience of servicing the attack aircraft and the suspension of weapons with the engines running and provides ease of operation and replacement of the power plant. Attack aircraft engines are spaced from each other at a distance sufficient to exclude being hit by one 57-mm fragmentation projectile or MANPADS missile. At the same time, the central part of the attack aircraft fuselage remained free to accommodate fuel tanks near the aircraft's center of gravity. In the event of a forced landing on the "belly", the partially protruding pneumatics of the chassis were supposed to soften the impact on the ground. The tail unit of the attack aircraft is designed in such a way that when firing one keel or even one of the halves of the stabilizer, it can maintain controllability. Were not forgotten and such means of countering anti-aircraft missiles, as automatic guns for shooting dipole reflectors and heat traps. To warn of radar exposure, the AN / ALR-46 station was installed on the aircraft.
In addition to being highly protected, Thunderbort II has a very significant impact potential. An aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of 23,000 kg on eleven armament hardpoints can carry a load of 7260 kg.
The attack aircraft's arsenal is quite impressive: for example, on seven suspension nodes, you can place 907 kg of free-falling or guided bombs. There are also options for combat equipment, consisting of twelve 454-kg bombs, twenty-eight 227-kg bombs. In addition, the use of 70-127-mm NAR blocks, napalm tanks and suspended nacelles with 20-mm SUU-23 / A cannons is envisaged. After the attack aircraft was adopted, along with the 30-mm GAU-8 / A Avenger cannon, its main anti-tank weapons were Rockeye Mk.20 cluster bombs, equipped with cumulative submunitions.
However, in the conditions of powerful front-line air defense, the defeat of armored vehicles with onboard gun fire and free-fall cluster bombs could be too risky even for a very well-protected aircraft. For this reason, the AGM-65 Maverick missile was introduced into the A-10A armament. This missile, or rather, a family of missiles that differ from each other in the guidance system, engine and warhead weight, was developed by Hughes Missile Systems on the basis of the outdated AIM-4 Falcon air combat missile. The official decision to accept the AGM-65A into service was signed on August 30, 1972.
On the first modification of the AGM-65A, a television guidance head was used. With a launch weight of about 210 kg, the weight of the cumulative warhead was 57 kg. The maximum flight speed of the rocket is about 300 m / s, the launch range is up to 22 km. However, it turned out to be impossible to detect and capture a small target at such a distance. When striking from low altitudes, which is typical for assault aircraft, the capture range of small targets was 4-6 km. In order to increase the capture range, on the AGM-65В modification, the field of view of the television head was reduced from 5 to 2.5 °. However, as the experience of real military operations showed, this did not help much. With the narrowing of the field of view, the pilots had difficulties in finding a target, since it was carried out through the homing head of the rocket itself, and the image from the seeker is transmitted to the sighting indicator in the cockpit.
During the process of combat use of the missile, the aircraft is very limited in maneuver. The pilot, following the target visually, pilots the aircraft so that its image appears on the screen, while, as a rule, the aircraft is introduced into a gentle dive at a relatively low speed. After detecting the target on the screen, the pilot puts an electronic mark of the sight on the target image with the GOS scanning joystick and presses the "Tracking" button. As a result, the seeker is transferred to the automatic target tracking mode. After reaching the permitted range, the rocket is launched and the aircraft is taken out of the dive. The missile guidance accuracy is 2-2.5 m, but only under good visibility conditions.
On ranges, in ideal conditions and in the absence of anti-aircraft countermeasures, an average of 75-80% of missiles hit the target. But at night, in conditions of strong dustiness or with all sorts of meteorological phenomena, the effectiveness of the use of missiles sharply decreased or was completely impossible. In this regard, representatives of the Air Force expressed a desire to receive a rocket that functions on the principle of “fire and forget”. In 1986, the AGM-65D entered service with a cooled thermal imaging homing head. In this case, the thermal imaging seeker is made in the form of a removable module, which makes it possible to replace it with other types of guidance systems. The mass of the rocket increased by 10 kg, but the warhead remained the same. It is believed that the use of IR seeker made it possible to double the target acquisition range and remove restrictions on maneuvering after launch. However, in practice, it turned out that it is possible to hit targets that are sufficiently contrasting in thermal terms. This primarily applied to equipment with engines turned on or did not have time to cool down. At the same time, in a number of cases, the rocket independently re-aimed at powerful sources of thermal radiation: objects heated by the sun, reservoirs and metal sheets reflecting the sun's rays, sources of open fire. As a result, the efficiency of the IR seeker was not as high as desired. Rockets of the AGM-65D modification were used mainly at night, when the influence of interference is minimal. It was noted that thermal homing heads work well in the absence of extraneous illumination in the form of burning armored vehicles, shell explosions, tracer bullets and flares.
Currently, "Mavericks" of modifications A, B and D have been removed from service due to their low efficiency. They were replaced by the improved AGM-65E / F / G / H / J / K missiles. The UR AGM-65E is equipped with a laser radiation receiver, the guidance accuracy of this missile is high, but it needs external illumination. Its mass has been increased to 293 kg, and the weight of the penetrating warhead is 136 kg. The AGM-65E missile is mainly designed to destroy various fortifications and engineering structures. The same warhead is carried by the AGM-65F and G modifications with an improved IR seeker. But they are mainly used in naval aviation to combat surface targets. The AGM-65H, J and K models are equipped with CCD-based optoelectronic guidance systems. Their starting weight ranges from 210 to 360 kg, and the mass of warheads from 57 to 136 kg.
In general, "Maverick" has established itself as a fairly effective means of dealing with armored vehicles. According to American data, in the initial period of Operation Desert Storm alone, these missiles, launched from A-10 attack aircraft, hit about 70 units of Iraqi armored vehicles. However, there were overlaps, so during the battle for Ras al-Khafji, the launch of the AGM-65E UR with illumination from an external source of target designation destroyed the USMC LAV-25 armored personnel carrier, mistaken for the Iraqi BTR-60. The missile attack killed seven Marines.
In Iraq, they used mainly "Mavericks" of early modifications, whose life cycle was close to completion. Although the A-10 attack aircraft in an anti-tank configuration is capable of taking 6 AGM-65s, the heavy anti-tank missile is overly powerful and expensive. Since when creating the AGM-65, an attempt was made to obtain a missile suitable both for fighting tanks and for hitting stationary highly protected targets, it turned out to be quite large and heavy. If the cost of the first models of "Maverick" was about $ 20 thousand, then later modifications cost the American budget more than $ 110 thousand per unit. At the same time, the cost of Soviet-made T-55 and T-62 tanks on the world arms market, depending on the technical condition of the vehicles and the transparency of the transaction, ranges from $ 50,000 to $ 100,000. Thus, it is not economically feasible to use missiles to combat armored vehicles that are more expensive than the target itself. With good service and operational characteristics and combat properties, the Maverick as an anti-tank weapon is not suitable for the cost-effectiveness criterion. In this regard, the remaining in service missiles of the latest modifications are intended mainly for destruction of surface and important ground targets.
Since the composition of the avionics on the first serial A-10A was quite simple, the ability to deliver air strikes in the dark and in poor weather conditions were limited. The first step was to equip the attack aircraft with the ASN-141 inertial navigation system and the APN-19 radio altimeter. In connection with the continuous improvement of the Soviet air defense, the outdated AN / ALR-46 radar warning equipment was replaced by AN / ALR-64 or AN / ALR-69 radio intelligence stations during the modernization of attack aircraft.
In the late 70s, Fairchild Republic proactively attempted to create an all-day and all-weather version of the A-10N / AW (Night / Adverse Weather). The aircraft was equipped with a Westinghouse WX-50 radar and an AN / AAR-42 thermal imaging system, combined with a laser rangefinder-designator in the ventral container. To service the detection and armament equipment, a navigator-operator was introduced into the crew. In addition to searching for targets and using weapons at night, the equipment could carry out mapping and made it possible to fly in the mode of enveloping the terrain at an extremely low altitude. However, the Air Force command, which considered the A-10 a "lame duck", preferred to spend taxpayers' money on expanding the strike capabilities of the supersonic F-15 and F-16. In the mid-80s, they tried to install the LANTIRN optoelectronic navigation and sighting container system on the Thunderbolt II. However, for financial reasons, they refused to equip a single attack aircraft with a complex and expensive system.
Already in the second half of the 80s, among the high-ranking military and in the US Congress, voices began to be heard about the need to abandon the slow attack aircraft on the grounds that the constantly improving air defense system of the Eastern Bloc countries gives the Warthog little chance of survival, even taking into account its armor protection. The reputation of the A-10 was largely saved by the operation against Iraq, which began in January 1991. In the specific conditions of the desert, with a suppressed centralized air defense system, the attack aircraft performed well. They not only destroyed Iraqi armored vehicles and bombed defense centers, but also hunted for the OTR P-17 launchers.
"Thunderbolts" acted quite effectively, although other reports of American pilots can be compared with the "achievements" of Hans-Ulrich Rudel. Thus, the pilots of the A-10 pair said that during one sortie they destroyed 23 enemy tanks and damaged 10. In total, according to American data, the Thunderbolts destroyed more than 1,000 Iraqi tanks, 2,000 other pieces of military equipment and 1,200 artillery pieces. Most likely, these data are overestimated several times, but, nevertheless, the A-10 has become one of the most effective combat aircraft used in this armed conflict.
A total of 144 Thunderbolts took part in the operation, which flew over 8,000 sorties. At the same time, 7 attack aircraft were shot down and another 15 were seriously damaged.
In 1999, American "Warthogs" hunted for Serbian armored vehicles over Kosovo, during the NATO military operation against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Although the Americans announced many dozen destroyed Serbian tanks, in reality the successes of the attack aircraft in the Balkans were modest. During the sortie on one of the "Thunderbolts" the engine was shot off, but the plane managed to return safely to its airfield.
Since 2001, armored attack aircraft have been deployed against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The permanent base of the Thunderbolts was the Bagram airfield, 60 km north-west of Kabul. Due to the enemy's lack of armored vehicles, attack aircraft were used as close air support aircraft, acting at the request of the international coalition forces and for air patrolling. During sorties in Afghanistan, the A-10 repeatedly returned with holes from small arms and anti-aircraft guns of 12, 7-14, 5-mm caliber, but had no losses. In low-altitude bombing, 227-kg bombs with brake parachutes showed good results.
In March 2003, the United States once again invaded Iraq. A total of 60 attack aircraft took part in Operation Iraqi Freedom. This time, too, there were some losses: on April 7, not far from Baghdad International Airport, one A-10 was shot down. Another aircraft returned with numerous holes in the wing and fuselage, with a damaged engine and a failed hydraulic system.
Cases of "Thunderbolts" striking their troops were widely publicized. So, during the battle for Nasiriyah on March 23, due to uncoordinated actions of the pilot and the ground aircraft controller, an air strike was made on the Marine Corps unit. According to official data, one American was killed during the incident, but in reality the losses could have been greater. On that day, 18 American troops were killed in the fighting. Just five days later, a pair of A-10s mistakenly knocked out four British armored vehicles. In this case, one Englishman was killed. A-10 attack aircraft continued to be used in Iraq after the end of the main phase of hostilities and with the beginning of a guerrilla war.
Although the "Thunderbolt" II had a high strike potential, the leadership of the US Defense Ministry could not decide on the future of this machine for a long time. Many US military officials favored the strike variant of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The A-16 supersonic attack aircraft project, presented by General Dynamics, promised unification with a fighter fleet in the late 70s. It was planned to increase the security of the cockpit by using Kevlar armor. The main anti-tank weapons of the A-16 were to be cumulative cluster bombs, NAR and Maverick guided missiles. It also provided for the use of a suspended 30-mm cannon, the ammunition of which included armor-piercing shells with a uranium core. However, critics of the project pointed to the insufficient combat survivability of the attack aircraft, created on the basis of a single-engine light fighter, and as a result, the project was not implemented.
After the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the USSR, numerous Soviet tank armies no longer threatened the countries of Western Europe, and it seemed to many that the A-10, like many other relics of the Cold War, would soon retire. However, the attack aircraft was in demand in numerous wars unleashed by the United States, and at the beginning of the 21st century, practical work began on its modernization. The 356 Thunderbolts allocated $ 500 million to increase the combat capabilities of the 356 Thunderbolts. The first modernized attack aircraft A-10C took off in January 2005. Repair and modernization to the A-10C level was carried out in the 309th maintenance and repair group of the US Air Force at Davis-Montan Air Base in Arizona.
In addition to strengthening the structure and replacing wing elements, the aircraft's avionics underwent a significant update. The old dial gauges and CRT screen replaced two multifunctional 14 cm color displays. The control of the aircraft and the use of weapons were simplified through the introduction of an integrated digital system and controls that allow you to control all equipment without removing your hands from the aircraft control stick. This made it possible to increase the pilot's awareness of the situational situation - now he does not need to constantly look at the instruments or be distracted by manipulating various switches.
During the modernization, the attack aircraft received a new multiplex digital data exchange bus that provides communication between the on-board computer and weapons, which made it possible to use modern suspended reconnaissance and target designation containers of the Litening II and Sniper XR type. To suppress ground-based radars, the AN / ALQ-131 Block II active jamming station can be suspended on the A-10C.
Modern sighting and navigation equipment and communication systems have significantly increased the strike capabilities of the modernized attack aircraft, which was confirmed in Afghanistan and Iraq. A-10C pilots were able to quickly find and identify targets and strike with greater accuracy. Thanks to this, the capabilities of the Thunderbolt have significantly expanded in terms of using it as a close air support aircraft and during search and rescue operations.
According to the Military Balance, in 2016 there were 281 A-10Cs in the US Air Force last year. In total, from 1975 to 1984, 715 attack aircraft were built. The military of the US allies showed interest in the A-10 attack aircraft, this aircraft was especially relevant for the NATO countries during the Cold War. But in the case of acquiring a highly specialized anti-tank attack aircraft, due to budgetary constraints, one would have to sacrifice fighters and cut their own programs for creating promising combat aircraft. In the 1980s and 1990s, the US authorities discussed the sale of used attack aircraft to the oil monarchies of the Middle East. But Israel sharply opposed this, and Congress did not approve the deal.
At the moment, the future of the A-10C in the United States is again in question: of the 281 aircraft in the Air Force, 109 need replacement of wing elements and other urgent repairs. If emergency measures are not taken, then already in 2018-2019, these machines will not be able to take off. Earlier, the US Senate Armed Services Committee agreed on the allocation of more than $ 100 million.for routine and urgent repairs of A-10C attack aircraft, however, the contractor encountered difficulties in fulfilling the contract. The fact is that the production of wing and airframe elements that need to be replaced has long been discontinued.
Partially, the lack of new repair kits can be temporarily covered by the dismantling of attack aircraft stored in Davis-Montan, but such a measure will not help maintain the combat readiness of the A-10S in the long term, especially since the number of A-10s mothballed in Davis-Montan which you can remove the necessary parts does not exceed three dozen.
Compared to the times of the confrontation between the two superpowers, at present, the US military is paying much less attention to the fight against armored vehicles. In the near future, it is not planned to create a specialized anti-tank aircraft. Moreover, in the US Air Force, in the light of the fight against "international terrorism", the US Air Force command intends to adopt a relatively light and weakly protected aircraft of close air support such as the A-29 Super Tucano turboprop or the twin-engine Textron AirLand Scorpion jet with a level of protection against small arms …
In the 80s, in addition to the A-10 attack aircraft in the United States, the F-16A Block 15 and Block 25 light fighters were considered as the main anti-tank aircraft. In addition to the anti-tank cassettes, the weapons of these modifications included AGM-65 Maverick guided missiles.
However, faced with the high cost of heavy "Mavericks", the US Air Force chose to fight enemy armored vehicles using more affordable means. During the "War in the Gulf" one of the most effective types of weapons, hindering the actions of Iraqi armored vehicles, were the 1000-pound and 500-pound CBU-89 and CBU-78 Gator cassettes with anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. Bomb cassette CBU-89 contains 72 anti-depletion mines with magnetic fuse BLU-91 / B and 22 anti-personnel mines BLU-92 / B, and CBU-78 45 anti-tank and 15 anti-personnel mines. Mine laying is possible at a carrier flight speed of up to 1300 km / h. With the help of 6 CBU-89 cassettes, it is possible to place a minefield 650 m long and 220 m wide. In 1991 alone, American aircraft dropped 1105 CBU-89s in Iraq.
Another effective aviation anti-tank munition is the CBU-97 cluster bomb, 420 kg, equipped with ten BLU-108 / B cylindrical submunitions. After ejection from the cassette, the cylinder is lowered down on a parachute. Each submunition contains four disc-shaped self-aiming striking elements with a diameter of 13 cm. After reaching the optimal height above the ground, the submunition is spun up using a jet engine, after which the disks fly in different directions within a radius of 150 m, moving in a spiral and searching for a target using laser and infrared sensors … If a target is detected, it is hit from above with the help of a "shock core". Each bomb is equipped with sensors that independently determine the optimal deployment height. The CBU-97 can be used in the altitude range of 60 - 6100 m and at a carrier speed of 46 - 1200 km / h.
A further development of the CBU-97 cluster anti-tank bomb was the CBU-105. It is almost completely similar to the CBU-97, except that the submunitions have a flight correction system.
The carriers of cluster bombs with anti-tank mines and self-aiming ammunition are not only the A-10 attack aircraft, which can carry up to 10 bomb 454-kg cassettes, but also the F-16C / D, F-15E, deck-mounted AV-8B, F / A- 18, promising F-35 and "strategists" B-1B and B-52H. In European NATO countries, the arsenal of Tornado IDS, Eurofighter Typhoon, Mirage 2000D and Rafale fighter-bombers also includes various cluster anti-tank bombs.