There's one reason the A-10 Warthog is irreplaceable
No matter how advanced smart bombs get, and no matter how stealthy and quick an aircraft can become, the A-10 has one factor that guarantees it can never truly be replaced: its gun.
These days, pretty much any warplane can drop guided munitions with pinpoint accuracy, but what makes the A-10 so special is one of the only weapons used by the US Air Force that isn't precision-guided: the 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger gun with 1,150 incendiary rounds.
In a recent press release, Air Force Col. Sean McCarthy, the 447th Air Expeditionary Group's commander, explained in a US Department of Defense release exactly why the A-10 can do missions no other plane can.
McCarthy, who commands 550 airmen operating out of Turkey's Incirlik Air Base, revealed that deliberate targeting of ISIS assets in Syria accounts for only about 10% of airstrikes carried out from the base.
The other 90% are dynamic strikes, or strikes where troops on the ground call in for airstrikes. This is where the Warthog shines.
"A troops-in-contact [report] pops up or a target pops up at short notice, and we respond. It generally doesn't involve an integrated effort with the coalition. It's just usually a two-ship of A-10s that show up overhead and we conduct our mission," McCarthy said of the A-10's operation out of Incirlik.
The A-10 actually operates in the field as an even more precise weapon than even the most advanced smart bombs.
"The No. 1 thing when it comes to strikes is making sure we do as little damage as possible, especially killing civilians. We try very hard to keep that from happening," McCarthy said.
Armored vehicle post-A-10 close air support. | US Air Force photo
So when there is any reason to believe that civilians may be in the area, the A-10 is the best tool for the job. In a murky situation, where "there's no way to know whether they're civilian noncombatants or not, we don't take the chance" of using a bomb, McCarthy said.
"That's a type of target we'll go after with the gun," he added. "It's a low-collateral-damage weapon, pinpoint accurate, and we employ high-explosive incendiary rounds so nothing's walking away from that if they get hit."