The battle of the tank busters: Frogfoot versus Warthog
The A-10 Thunderbolt II is the undisputed king of close-air support.
But what you may not know is that the plane nearly wasn't picked to handle close-air support – it had to compete with the Northrop A-9.
And that plane looks a heck of a lot like the one the Soviets picked to bust American tanks if the Cold War went hot.
So how does the Su-25 "Frogfoot" in service with Russia stack up against the A-10? Let's take a look.
U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. John Marks, poses with an A-10 Thunderbolt II at King Fahd Air Base, Saudi Arabia, during Desert Storm in February, 1991. Destroying and damaging more than 30 Iraqi tanks was one of Marks most memorable combat missions during Desert Storm. | Courtesy photo provided by Lt. Col. Marks
"Killer Chick" Campbell looks at the damage her A-10 suffered after bringing it back from a close-air support mission. (USAF photo)
The big reason the A-10 won the A-X competition in 1973 was due to the fact that Fairchild had the design pretty well locked down. The plane was merged with the GAU-8 30mm Avenger cannon, given a very powerful bomb load (up to 16,000 pounds of cluster bombs, laser-guided bombs, iron bombs, AGM-65 Maverick missiles, and rockets). The A-10C, which entered service in 2005, added the ability to use Joint Direct Attack Munitions (GPS-guided smart bombs) and the Wind-Corrected Munition Dispensers (cluster bombs with GPS-guidance and a range of over 12 miles). The plane even carries AIM-9 Sidewinders for self-defense (although, Desert Storm proved that the GAU-8 can take down aircraft, too). In short, this is a plane that is designed to kill enemy tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, and grunts.
The A-10 can not only dish out punishment, it can take it. Like the P-47 Thunderbolt, there are tales of terribly damaged A-10s bringing their pilots home. Perhaps the most famous example was the 2003 incident where Air Force Capt. Kim "Killer Chick" Campbell brought her A-10 home on manual reversion. The A-10 was designed to come home with serious battle damage – and it has.
The Su-25, though, is an interesting beast. The Soviets followed the A-X competition and decided they needed a plane like that of their own.
That said, they picked the loser of the competition to copy. The Su-25 carries about 9,000 pounds of bombs, rockets and missiles, including the AA-8 Aphid. It is a bit faster, hitting Mach .8 as opposed to the A-10's Mach .56, and has a longer range (750 nautical miles to the A-10's 695). Like the A-10, it, too, has a 30mm Gatling gun.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Alex Beltyukov
So, which plane is the better option? Let's be very blunt here: The A-10 brings more payload and is tougher. The Frogfoot might be 40% faster than the Warthog, but it can't outrun a Sidewinder, while an AA-8 is likely to just annoy the Warthog's pilot and really infuriate the crew chief.
Let's be honest, the Soviets made a knock-off of the losing design, and it would probably lose in a fight with an A-10, too.