When you are talking about the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, affectionately known as the Warthog, it is without a doubt, the best close-air support plane ever devised. One of the biggest reasons is in the plane's nose.
Yeah, we're talking the GAU-8, a seven-barrel Gatling gun that fires a 30mm round made from depleted uranium. This gun was designed to kill tanks – make them deader than the zombies on The Walking Dead. You might think a 30mm gun is too small to kill a tank. If you're taking the tank head-on, it is.
The entire A-10 platform was designed around the tank-killing cannon. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chris Drzazgowski)
Shooting from above the tank, though, you're aiming for where the armor is the thinnest. This is because the crew needs to be able to exit the tank through the hatches, which means they have to be able to open them. Oh, and the supplies the tank's crew needs to function (food, water, ammo) have to come into the tank through those hatches as well.
The A-10 looks as if it was designed around the GAU-8. That's true. The plane can carry 1,174 rounds for this gun, which fires at 3,900 to 4,200 rounds per minute. That's anywhere from 16.77 to 18 seconds of firing time. The gun can kill a target up to two and a quarter miles away.
The GAU-8/A Avenger Gatling gun next to a VW Type 1. Removing an installed GAU-8 from an A-10 requires first installing a jack under the aircraft's tail to prevent it from tipping, as the cannon makes up most of the aircraft's forward weight. (US Air Force photo)
The Air Force is running a competition to see what plane will replace the A-10. There have been four contenders flying off to win the OA-X contract, but none of them have this powerful gun in their arsenal. Perhaps it may be a better idea to re-open the A-10 production line, no?