A tank-buster for maritime patrol?

I was surprised to learn of an unusual maritime patrol aircraft currently deployed to the Philippines.  The Washington Post reports:

The situation in the South China Sea has grown even more complex over the past week, with A-10 attack planes flying maritime patrols over a coral reef chain known as Scarborough Shoal. It’s less than 150 miles to the west of the Philippines, and considered a site where Beijing may carry out “land reclamation” and continue its military expansion in the region this year, prompting concern from the United States and its partners in the region.

The A-10 might seem like an unlikely plane for the mission, though. The heavily armored twin-engine “Warthog” has been in service since the 1970s, and was designed for close-air support, in which combat aircraft assist ground troops by attacking enemy tanks, vehicles and positions. There is none of that around Scarborough Shoal, and the plane is considered more vulnerable than other American military planes against surface-to-air missiles.

. . .

Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a spokesman for Air Forces Pacific, said Wednesday that the A-10 has excellent loiter capabilities and maneuverability at low air speeds and altitude that are “necessary for conducting the air contingent’s air and maritime domain awareness and personnel recovery missions.”

There’s more at the link.

It’s an interesting choice for many reasons.  The A-10 might also be pretty capable at maritime interdiction, if – if – it could get through the layers of modern air defenses carried by most navies.  Its 30mm. cannon should be more than capable of turning the average frigate or destroyer into a colander, and it can carry up to 8 tons of bombs and missiles.  If it can get close enough without being shot down, I’d hate to be on the receiving end.



  1. Note that Tom Clancy in "Red Storm Rising" used Nat'l Guard A-10's to intercept ADML Stralbo's Fleet off the East Coast. That book was written in the 1980's. He made the point then that the USAF would gladly trade a couple A-10's for a Cruiser. I suspect that the math is still about the same.

  2. If you had EA-18G's in the air running interference, it might be possible to get the A-10's in close enough for wet work.

  3. Alan,

    at the risk of being flippant, the USAF has tried several times to trade ALL its A-10s for NO cruiser.

    Take care.

  4. Alan, right author but wrong book.

    It was in "The Hunt for Red October" where a flight of ANG 'hogs simulated a strike on the Kirov to let the Soviets know the NCA cared.

  5. While the A-10 may not have fancy jammers and other electronic capabilities, it does have VERY rugged systems with redundancy and armor; a quick search online will show pictures from 2003 and 1991 of the incredible amount of damage that an A-10 can take and still keep flying – don't forget that it was designed to work low, slow, and close to Soviet armor, who were supported by the best anti-aircraft systems in the world.
    I suspect that the A-10 could acquit itself very well with a gutsy pilot and a well planned mission.
    Don't forget that it can also carry precision guided munitions, some of which have standoff capabilities.

  6. Yep, It was "Hunt" wasn't it? I get old.
    Shugyosha, the USAF has had a hate on for Ground Attack since about 10 minutes after the "Peace" treaty was signed at Panmunjom. They've been trying to get out of performing the Mission, without having to give up the assets since then. It's only gotten worse in the last 50 years.

  7. An A-10 can evade a fighter, especially at low altitude. And they can carry JSOWs… Additionally, the 30MM will chew up any CRUDES out there today. Take out the bridge, and you've crippled that ship!

  8. Guys, you're missing a huge capability that the A-10 has. Remember the Exocet missiles the Argies used against the Brits in the Falkland war? Launched form??? Old A-4 Skyhawks flying low and slow…firing from WAY outside the defensive range of the British fleet. The Exocet flies at wave height and only raises altitude when close to ships. The close in defense (Phalanx type) on a ship can take out one or two…but 3 or 4? The Skyhawk could only carry one if memory servers. The A-10 could carry ??? Four maybe? A flight of 4 could launce 8 to 16. Pity day fools on the other end.

    A-10 guns for Chinese gunboats and maybe what in the old days we would have called destroyers (small, fast, lightly armed). Anything larger, whatever the 'Merican version of the Exocet is.

  9. The Argentines launched their exocets (they only had a few) from French made Super Etandards. Their A-4 Seahawks came in at high subsonic speeds over the land to attack landing forces with dumb iron bombs. Luckily for the brits many of the bombs crashed right through the ships without detonating. The brits were also very fortunate that the argies didn't have more exocets. Their air defenses were pretty limited as I understand it and a good coordinated attack from a multiple aircraft firing multiple anti-ship missiles and other aircraft like skyhawks taking advantage of the chaos to slip in and drop properly functioning iron bombs would've played hell with their task force. Had the argies waited and amassed more ASMs and had a slightly more capable air to air component they could probably have bloodied up the brits enough to keep the islands and brought down the Thatcher government in the process.

  10. Also the A-10 can't carry harpoon missiles and I don't believe it can carry JSOWs either. It can do JDAMs now finally. It can carry mavericks which would probably mission kill a surface combatant if you could get close enough to launch one or two.

  11. LCB- The 'rest of the story' on the Sheffield loss was that they had participated in a joint exercise with the French just prior to deploying to the Falklands. The Exocet was STILL programmed as a 'friendly' missile when the Argys fired them. THAT was why the missile got through.

  12. Old NFO

    Do not question your account at all but that account of the loss of Sheffield is nowhere mentioned at all in Adm Sandy Woodward's excellent account of the entire Falklands mission or any other reference work I have read. Somewhere I recall even seeing the official MD inquiry report re Sheffield, not there either. Got a source? I would be curious, esp as the Sea Dart system was not, at that time, esp designed for very low level attacks.


  13. Modern Extended Range bombs are able to be released from around 45 miles away from the target.
    How many JDAM's can a single A-10 carry, 6,8?
    No need to get really close to the target.
    Although at 45 miles away the A-10 would still be in missile range, but only for very good missile's.

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