The A-10/OA-10 have excellent maneuverability at low air speeds and altitude, and are highly accurate weapons-delivery platforms. They can loiter near battle areas for extended periods of time and operate under 1,000-foot ceilings (303.3 meters) with 1.5-mile (2.4 kilometers) visibility. Their wide combat radius and short takeoff and landing capability permit operations in and out of locations near front lines. Using night vision goggles, A-10/OA-10 pilots can conduct their missions during darkness.
Thunderbolt IIs have Night Vision Imaging Systems (NVIS), goggle compatible single-seat cockpits forward of their wings and a large bubble canopy which provides pilots all-around vision. The pilots are protected by 900 pounds of titanium armor (referred to as a "titanium bathtub") that also protects parts of the flight-control system. The redundant primary structural sections allow the aircraft to enjoy better survivability during close air support than did previous aircraft.
The aircraft can survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high explosive projectiles up to 23mm. Their self-sealing fuel cells are protected by internal and external foam and are designed not to explode if shot. Manual systems back up their redundant hydraulic flight-control systems. This permits pilots to fly and land when hydraulic power or a wing is lost.
The Thunderbolt II can be serviced and operated from bases with limited facilities near battle areas. Many of the aircraft's parts are interchangeable left and right, including the engines, main landing gear and vertical stabilizers.
Avionics equipment includes communications, inertial navigation systems, fire control and weapons delivery systems, target penetration aids and night vision goggles. Their weapons delivery systems include heads-up displays that indicate airspeed, altitude, dive angle, navigation information and weapons aiming references; a low altitude safety and targeting enhancement system (LASTE) which provides constantly computing impact point freefall ordnance delivery; and Pave Penny laser-tracking pods under the fuselage. The aircraft also have armament control panels, and infrared and electronic countermeasures to handle surface-to-air missile threats. Installation of the Global Positioning System is currently underway for all aircraft.
The Thunderbolt II's 30mm GAU-8/A Gatling gun can fire 3,900 rounds a minute and can defeat an array of ground targets to include tanks. Some of their other equipment includes an inertial navigation system, electronic countermeasures, target penetration aids, self-protection systems, and AGM-65 Maverick and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.
The first production A-10A was delivered to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, in October 1975. It was designed specially for the close air support mission and had the ability to combine large military loads, long loiter and wide combat radius, which proved to be vital assets to the United States and its allies during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Noble Anvil. In the Gulf War, A-10s had a mission capable rate of 95.7 percent, flew 8,100 sorties and launched 90 percent of the AGM-65 Maverick missiles.
The A-10s were an unwelcome addition to the Air Force arsenal. Air Force officials prized the high-flying, high-performance F-15 and F-16 jets, and were determined to leave the dirty work of close air support to Army helicopters.
In 1991, the planes proved their mettle in the Persian Gulf War, destroying more than 1,000 tanks, 2,000 military vehicles and 1,200 artillery pieces. Five A-10s were shot down during the war, far fewer than military planners expected.
The aircraft again saw service in the 1999 Kosovo War, but due to the rules of engagement imposed by the Clinton administration, which was paranoid about having an American aicraft shot down and thus possibly taking casualties, the aircraft did not perform well. During the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan A-10's did not take part in the initial stages. However, they were later based at Bagram air base and took part in subsequent operations, including Operation Anaconda in March 2002. Due to far less restrictive rules of engagement, the aicraft performed a great deal better than in 1999. Early in 2003, the aircraft saw service over Iraq again when America and Britain invaded the country and deposed Saddam Hussein. 60 A-10's were deployed, and one was shot down near Baghdad International Airport by Iraqi fire late in the campaign.
The A-10 is scheduled to stay in service with the USAF until 2028, when it will be replaced by the Joint Strike Fighter.