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.
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.
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.