In the 30+ years of operational service, the A-10 mission has continued to evolve to meet ever-changing mission requirement and battlefield complexities. Meeting the initial A-X requirements, the A-10 was initially focused on Close Air Support (CAS) of friendly troops in contact with Warsaw Pact forces in the event of the Cold War going hot. However, with actual A-10 combat operations in the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, and Afghanistan, the initial low-altitude CAS mission changed dramatically.
Given the much greater air defense threat at low-altitude compared to medium altitude, A-10 operations generally moved to medium altitude (12,000 to 20,000 ft) to minimize the threat from Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) and Man Portable Surface to Air Missiles (MANPAD). This was made possible due either to a lack of credible medium to high altitude air defense threats and/or sufficient friendly support assets to neutralize the threat. As such, most of the A-10s combat use has been above 12,000 ft with excursions to lower altitude to employ weapons (strafing and CCIP rocket/bomb delivery). Today’s A-10C in particular use a combination of the Litening AT targeting pod with precision-guided bombs and missiles to attack from medium altitudes and stand-off ranges to avoid low-altitude threats.
Working from these altitudes in such a manner, the A-10C has four general types of missions it can conduct:
Close Air Support (CAS)
As the initial mission of the A-10, this is what it was designed to do… provide direct support to friendly ground forces in contact with the enemy. Although this was originally envisioned as NATO forces holding off a Warsaw Pact advance, today CAS is a common mission for A-10C crews supporting allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Often A-10C crews will be tasked to eliminate hostile forces within “danger close” range of friendly units. The updates to the A-10C of the better integrated targeting pod and the SADL datalink system provide an improved level of coordination and weapon employment accuracy to avoid tragic blue-on-blue, friendly fire incidents.
Paramount of effective CAS support is the Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) on the ground with friendly troops. It is the JTAC's mission to coordinate with the A-10C pilot to effectively and accurately deliver weapons exactly on the directed target to best support the friendly ground forces in contact with the enemy. With the integration of the datalink, a JTAC can now send digital tasking onto the moving map display and a text message. However, this does not preclude the traditional verbal directions over a radio to talk the pilot’s eyes onto the intended target.
Battlefield Air Interdiction (BAI)
The goal of BAI is to use airpower to attack enemy forces behind the front line that are not in contact with friendly forces. This can include rear echelon reinforcements, artillery/rocket system, logistics, and lines of communication. Depending on how far the target is behind the front line, there are generally two levels of BAI: Deep Interdiction against targets far behind the front line that generally consisted of logistical, command and control, line of communication, and Petroleum, Oil, Lubricants (POL) targets; and Battlefield Interdiction targets second-echelon forces behind the front line that are currently not in contact with friendly ground forces.
For many years the A-10 was relegated to Battlefield Interdiction while other aircraft such as the F-15E, F-16, F-117, and F-111 took the Deep Interdiction missions. However, this has gradually
DCS [A-10C WARTHOG]
28 A-10 HISTORY
changed and now BAI mission assignments are based on weather, target type, expected threats, and terrain. As such, more and more A-10s are assigned both types of BAI missions.
Because targets are well behind the front line, contact with a JTAC is rare except when tasked by a Special Forces team behind enemy lines.
For combat operations like Desert Storm and Allied Force, this was the most common type of mission. In ODS, A-10 crews were often assigned “Kill Boxes” to hunt for and destroy enemy units. In OAF, there was a similar target area assignment, but also target handoff from an Airborne Forward Air Controller (AFAC).
Airborne Forward Air Controller (AFAC)
Much like a JTAC tasks a CAS-assigned aircraft to a specific target, the AFAC performs the same role but from the cockpit of an aircraft. Unlike a JTAC that is most often assigning CAS strikes, the AFAC often performs the dual function of assigning both CAS and BAI attacks. Clear examples of this can be seen in the AFAC role the A-10 often played in coordinating BAI strikes in the Balkans, whereas the A-10 AFAC role in Iraq and Afghanistan was often tasking CAS strikes supporting friendly troops in contact.
When an A-10 is performing the AFAC role, it is termed an OA-10. There is no real difference between an A-10 and an OA-10 other than the mission and the OA-10 will generally have an AFAC payload consisting of Willy Pete marker rockets and several weapons. An A-10 that is dual tasked for CAS/BAI and AFAC is sometimes referred to as an A/OA-10 or a “Killer Scout”.
With the addition of the Litening AT targeting pod, the A-10 is a much more capable AFAC that can operate day or night. Previously, nighttime AFAC could be problematic and relied solely on the use of night vision goggles (NVG). For day time AFAC, the older OA-10 models had to use binoculars.
Along with the targeting pod, the SADL datalink allows the OA-10 to digitally transmit target locations to other aircraft on the network as well as sending clarifying text messages. Of course, the verbal “talk on” is also available over the radio.
Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR)
When an airman goes down behind enemy lines, an A-10 flight is a crucial part of the package that will go in to retrieve him or her. In the CSAR role, the A-10 will often be the on-site coordinating party responsible for the extraction operation. Additionally, the A-10 will have responsibility for attacking enemy forces threatening the rescue helicopters and enemy ground forces closing in on the position of the downed pilot.
During operations of Serbia and Kosovo, both CSAR operations were run from the cockpit of an A-10.