There can be little argument that the Avenger GAU-8 cannon of the A-10 Warthog has proved to be an effective anti-armour system. Less certain is how effective it is against light infantry. Certainly a direct hit from a 30mm round will take a soldier out of a fight, but how effective are the near misses? Such high velocity rounds probably bury them selves several feet underground before exploding, which can be less than ideal. In another article I've suggested new types of ammo that might address this problem. This page has an alternate approach that has other potential benefits. Suppose we build a variant of A-10 that does not have the Avenger cannon and instead has a lesser weapon such as a .50 or 20mm gatling. Such a move saves a lot of space and weight. Instead we fit this variant, which we will call the "Groundhog", with a turret mounting a laser designator and thermal imager. The aircraft can therefore "paint" a target at any bearing. Ideally the turret would also hold the new gun armament, allowing an all around field of fire. To exploit this new system to its maximum potential we'll use some of the weight that we've saved to add a second crewman to operate the turret. The Groundhog can still carry a full range of hardpoint mounted weapons and can carry a greater quantity of ammo for its gun.
The Groundhog has several potential roles:-
The Groundhog can designate targets for other aircraft. Since it does not need to fly towards the target to do this it is less vulnerable to counterfire. Such a tactic also allows the aircraft delivering laser guided munitions to break off as soon as their ordinance is released, decreasing their vulnerability too.
The Groundhog is rather like the modern equivalent of the A-1 Skyraider. Without the considerable weight of the Avenger cannon it can carry a greater weight of hardpoint ordinance. Using its turret mounted designator it can continue to illuminate its target even when flying away from it.
As has been suggested in the introduction, the Groundhog would be very effective at attacking light infantry and has an ammunition capacity sufficient for several minutes of sustained high volume fire.
One of the Groundhog's most useful applications is in Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD). Trying to spot an individual with a MANPAD missile is virtually impossible for a pilot under combat conditions. The Groundhog has an extra pair of eyes and sensors with a 360 degree field of view to help spot such threats before they fire. The turreted gun armament also allows the sensor operator to "reconnoiter by fire" ie, spray any likely hiding places of MANPAD teams, no matter at what angle to the plane's flight they are at.
The SEAD capabilities of the Groundhog also make it a good system to sweep the intended flight paths of air assault or air replenishment helicopter forces.
The Groundhog therefore has a complimentary role to its Avenger armed sister. Not only can it designate targets more effectively, but it also helps defend Warthogs from air defenses. Groundhogs would operate in mixed squadrons with Warthogs. If the tactical situation should change the Groundhog can still mount the podded 30mm GAU-13 cannon system and would use this weapon more accurately than high speed F-16s.
UPDATE " .for indulging in the kind of work we are describing (Maneuver Air Support), there is no airplane in the world that is better than the A-10, however, having said that, I must point out our failures (loss of control in its development):
It grew to nearly three times the size we originally had in mind:
We wanted protection for the pilot. We know that most of the bullets will come in from below and forward hemisphere. That was ignored so we got a wrapround bathtub of titanium. Keep in mind that for airplanes in this performance category, they grow about five pounds for every pound you add.
We wanted a powerful gun and we got it but the uneducated (about tactics} technical types assumed that pilots would typically make about ten passes and that on each they would hose for 2 or 3 seconds. At 4200 rpm, that creates a gigantic ammo bay (1350 rds of 30mm). What we know is that pilots may make two or three passes and, when well trained, will fire for about a half second on each.
The killer: with a Vietnam mentality, the "system" decreed that the AX should have a capacity to carry about 14000lb of bombs. The MAS proponents say NO bombs.
(utilize Missiles and Rockets) The end product has poor thrust to drag ratio ergo POOR Acceleration, that will assure you get hit a lot.
However, not bad for our FIRST attempt to design an airplane for this badly needed kind of war work. Next time, we should do better.
The legacy of the program:
The GUN --- fantastic. Almost always fires when you press the button (has not always been the case for our combat aircraft). Penetrates 3.5" of Brenel 500 steel at muzzle velocity. Gun system yields 5mil accuracy.
A community of pilots who never dreamed they would like this kind of work and not believe it is important and love to perform.
Challenge is to get them into a smaller, more agile ASP and let they go to work with the grunts (full time).
Desired characteristics include:
Very short take-off and landing
High accel and decel in flight
Best possible loiter fuel economy
Low IR signature.
Hard to beat turbo-prop and the best configuration for that is pusher or unducted-fan pusher.
Chuck E. Myers, Jr. President Aerocounsel, Inc.
A-10 for MAS, the quick fix For the standard single seat A-10, the main changes are proceedural rather than structural:
Carry less cannon ammo. Carrying 1000 less rounds still leaves 5 seconds of 30mm fire, but saves alot of weight.
Fit one or more .50 gatling pods. These are effective against infantry and light armour, so conserve 30mm
Make it routine for at least two pylons to carry fuel tanks to extend loiter time.
Carry a realistic warload. An A-10 probably doesn't need to carry 14,000lbs+ of stores, even though it can. Missiles and rocket pods are probably more use for MAS than free fall ordinance, and only a few pounds of these will go a long way.
Further UPDATE One common suggestion of the MAS Working Group is the need for an aircraft like the OA-37, both for Forward Air Control and as a Attack plane to supplement the A-10s. A two-seater Groundhog version of the A-10 may be the answer. Primary Systems would be the laser designator and FFAR pods, particularly when loaded with laser guided rounds. Starstreak may be another option. This aircraft may have a fixed or turreted .50 GECAL, or it may carry such weapons in pods. For harder targets the Groundhog can carry 25mm or 30mm ADEN cannon pods or larger missiles such as Maverick.