The A-10 Thunderbolt II: From A to C Page 2

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Low and slow - just how I like it
Low and slow – just how I like it
(Photo courtesy United States Air Force)

Finally starting to appreciate the A-10 as a master of the front line, the Air Force created the OA-10A designation for the Forward Air Control/Airborne (FAC/A) role: a role the A-10 was quite literally born to do (the A-10 is first and only US Air Force aircraft specifically designed for close air support). Externally, the OA-10 is exactly the same as an A-10A. While internally… well, the two are still exactly the same. An A-10 intended for FAC/A roles may have updated communications gear installed, but an OA-10A simply refers to an A-10A performing a FAC/A mission.

“Look What I Did!”
“Look What I Did!”
(Photo courtesy United States Air Force)

In the late 90’s, the A-10A received another major upgrade: GPS. Since the Tom-Tom wasn’t available in Warthog gray (hyuk huyk), dome-like GPS receiver/antenna units were installed on the top of the fuselage just behind the cockpit instead. Also including major upgrades to the existing navigation system, the upgrade was called the Embedded Global Positioning System / Inertial Navigation System (EGI).

Pigs may fly, but Warthogs soar
Pigs may fly, but Warthogs soar
(Photo courtesy United States Air Force)

Even Warthogs age with time, and as fielded A-10As began to approach the end of their design life, the Air Force, once reluctant to even field the machines, began to scramble to find ways to keep this immensely useful aircraft in inventory. Programs were put into place that replaced key components like fuel bladders, wings, and skin panels, and helped extend their service life. Spars and skin panels keep the ‘Hog in flight, but the avionics are what puts iron on targets and they were aging as well. To keep the aircraft up-to-date, a major modernization program (the Precision Engagement (PE) program) was conceived that would eventually result in the A-10C we’ve heard so much about. The scope of the upgrade meant that it couldn’t be installed fast enough to whet the Warthog drivers’ appetites in the National Guard and Reserves, so the “A-10A+” program was initiated to fill the gap.

The A-10A+ adds the ability to carry the Litening targeting pod, replaces the TV monitor with a multifunction display, and gives the pilot an F-16 style control stick: a fraction of the A-10C’s capabilities (see below), but at a fraction of the cost and time.

The Northrop Grumman Litening AT Targeting Pod
The Northrop Grumman Litening AT Targeting Pod
(Photo courtesy Northrop Grumman)

It is the PE upgrade that makes a Warthog an A-10C Warthog. While it is unusual for a minor upgrade to produce a new aircraft designation, the scope of the PE upgrade is a far cry from “minor”.

Here is just a small list of some of the items included in the Precision Engagement modification:

Cockpit Interface Control Unit (CICU):
The new brains behind the brawn, the CICU is the backbone of many of the new upgrades and gives the pilot significantly more avionics power to play with, integrating most of the new gear described below.

Two Multifunction Color Displays (MFCDs):
Similar to those found in many “modern” warfighters, the MFCDs (or simply MFDs) display oodles of info to the pilot and give him/her bunches more buttons to push.

Up Front Controller:
The Up Front Controller gives the pilot a place to enter and edit data without having to look down at the Control Data Unit (CDU) still located on the right panel: a big plus for situational awareness.

Digital Stores Management System (DSMS):
A new interface system for new weapons. Say goodbye to the bulky armament control panel and weapon station select switches!

The A-10C is oh so beautiful on the inside
The A-10C is oh so beautiful on the inside
(Photo by Ben Bloker, Stars and Stripes)

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