The Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II is an American single-seat, twin-engine jet aircraft developed by Fairchild-Republic for the United States Air Force to provide close air support of ground forces by attacking tanks, armored vehicles, and other ground targets, also providing a limited air interdiction role. It is lovingly called the Warthog because of its bulky appearance. It is the first U.S. Air Force aircraft designed exclusively for close air support. The A-10 was named in honor of the World War II era Republic P-47 Thunderbolt.
Although the A-10 can carry a considerable weight of disposable stores, such as the standard AGM-65 Maverick missile or "Paveway" laser-guided bombs, its primary built-in weapon is the General Electric 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger Gatling gun. The weapon is one of the largest and most dangerous aircraft weapons known, and primarily fires depleted uranium shells, but can be modified to fire high-explosive rounds as well. The damage caused by the explosive shells firing prematurely due to impact of an explosive shell would be catastrophic to the aircraft and pilot. It is for this reason that a great deal of effort has been taken to protect the 5 ft wide, 9 ft long drum. There are many plates of differing thicknesses between the skin and the drum. These plates are called trigger plates because when an explosive shell hits a target it first penetrates its armor, then detonates. As the drum has many layers of thin armor, the shell's detonation is triggered before reaching the drum. A final layer of armor around the drum itself protects it from fragmentation damage. The entire apparatus sits inside the titanium tub protecting the pilot from anti-aircraft fire. The gun is loaded by Syn-Tech's linked tube carrier GFU-7/E 30mm ammunition loading assembly cart. This vehicle is unique to the A-10 and the GAU-8.
The A-10 first saw combat in the Gulf War, performing beyond all expectations in the close air support role. Thunderbolts were responsible for the destruction of almost one thousand tanks, over 900 pieces of artillery, and over 1800 vehicles of other types, in addition to fifty Scud missile launchers. The Thunderbolt even saw aerial combat in the conflict, downing two Iraqi helicopters, both with the 30 mm cannon. Seven A-10s were lost in combat, all to ground fire (mostly SAMs).
- Warthog: Flying the A-10 in the Gulf War, by William L. Smallwood, Potomac Books, 1993