The a-10 Warthog is trying a new role: Decoying enemy air defense

  • Since its introduction in the 1970s, A-10 has been known for being a ground-attack aircraft capable of killing tanks.
  • Recent exercises saw the A-10 try out a new role: decoys were deployed to distract enemy air defenses.
  • The US military is making a shift in its focus to operations in the Pacific.

The A-10 Warthog is known for its ability to kill tanks, but the Air Force is now testing the 50-year-old plane in order to launch decoys that protect other aircraft.

A-10s were equipped by the ADM-160 miniature air launched decoy during Pacific exercises in November.

The MALD is described as a cruise missile and weighs in at less than 300 pounds. It has a range up to 500 miles. It has a Signature Augmentation System, which mimics the radar signatures and flight profiles of certain US aircraft. The MALD-J variant includes a jammer.

The idea is to launch salvoes de MALDs in advance of an US airstrike to confuse enemy about how many aircraft are coming from where.

During Green Flag-West from November 2 to 9, a DATM-160 — a training version of the MALD — was loaded onto an A-10 on an island off the coast of Naval Air Station North Island in California.

US Air Force A-10 Warthog crew chief

A US Air Force crew chief prepares for the launch of an A-10 for Green Flag-West in California, November 9.

US Air Force/Senior Airman Zachary Rufus

According to an article, “The A-10 can transport up to 16 MALDs. The same quantity as the B-52 but 12 more than the F-16.” Air Force news release.

The MALD is not being seen as a way to protect the A-10. Instead, the Warthog will use its decoys in support of other aircraft like fifth-generation F-35s or F-22s, as well as bombers and bombers.

A-10 pilots used MALDs to simulate a joint strike mission with B1-B bombers during another exercise over the Philippine Sea on Nov. 9.

“Having a combat-proven platform, like the A-10, provide support through the MALD decoys increases our aircraft’s success in striking their targets,” Maj. Daniel Winningham (37th Bomb Squadron B-1B instructor pilot) stated in a release.

Maj. Taylor Raasch was an instructor at the Air Force 66th Weapons Squadron and participated in Green Flag-West. He stated that the A-10 has the unique ability to carry a variety of weapons and work in extreme environments.

“How are we going find the boats?”

A-10 Warthog Thunderbolt ADM-160 Miniature Air-Launched Decoy

A-10 carrying a DATM 160 on California’s San Clemente Island, November 7.

US Air Force/Senior Airman Zachary Rufus

While the MALD can be useful in protecting US aircraft and driving enemy air-defense network networks crazy, it is odd that the A-10 is being used to transport decoys.

The Warthog was originally designed as a ground-attack aircraft for smashing Soviet armored columns. That meant it needed a powerful 30-mm cannon and anti-tank missiles, as well as armor plating and a rugged design to survive thick Soviet air defenses — and even with that armament, Air Force planners expected heavy losses.

While the A-10 has respectable range — about 700 miles, which can be extended by aerial refueling — a longer-range decoy-laden aircraft, such as a cargo plane or a drone, might be more useful, especially across the vast Pacific.

Instead, consider using the venerable A-10The first flight was in 1972. It seems that he is looking for a mission.

US Air Force A-10 ADM-160 Miniature Air Launched decoy

On March 1, US airmen loaded an ADM-160 MALD onto an A-10 at a Wisconsin base.

US Air National Guard/Tech. Sgt. Samara Taylor

The Air Force has strived to be the best for years. scrap the WarthogThe aging plane was feared to be destroyed by modern Russian and Chinese air defenses. The Warthog has flown for over a century, buoyed by its image as an aerial tough guy who can deliver punishment and take it. (Congress finally gave in this month, allowing for the Air Force to begin retiring A-10sIn the next one.

Some argue that the A-10 could be useful as the US military shifts its focus to the Pacific. war against ChinaEspecially if it were armed long-range missiles.

The mission in support to the B-1B “was an amazing way to demonstrate how the A-10 can transform from a close-air support team mindset to a striking team mindset.” Capt. Coleen Berryhill was an A-10 pilot.

The November Green Flag-West exercise marked another shift. Since 1981, the Air Force used the exercise as a training ground to provide air support to Army units. The A-10s were trained to support the US Navy and even as a ship-killer.

B-1B bombers and A-10 Warthogs over Philippine Sea

Capt. Coleen Berryhill flew close to a formation of A1-Bs, and A-10s above the Philippine Sea on November 9.

US Air Force/Capt. Coleen Berryhill

While the Warthog’s cannon and missiles could pulverize most warships, maritime strike would be a new mission — and one that would be vital in a conflict with China.

“How are we going to find the boat?” was one of the concerns we had during the planning phase for Green Flag. Capt. Capt. Joseph Cole, assistant director for operations for the Air Force’s 549th Combat Training Squadron. “We know they can be killed, but how do we find them and target their killing?”

The A-10 also operated from an “austere” island off the California coast. This was a reflection on the Air Force’s growing focus on using rugged or improvised airfields in the Pacific. This raises questions about fuel supply, munitions, and maintenance in forward areas.

The A-10 was built half a century ago to combat an armor-focused conflict. Ironically, such warfare is taking place in Ukraine now, but US officials declined to send manned planes to Ukraine. Ukrainians have cast doubtThe Warthog’s utility.

The US military will continue to focus more on the Pacific, but it remains to be seen if the A-10 plays a role in that.

Michael Peck, a defense writer, has had his work published in Forbes, Defense News magazine, Foreign Policy magazine, among other publications. He is a master’s student in political science. Follow him on Twitter LinkedIn.

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