Ukrainian military officials, businessmen and defense bureaucrats collaborated to set up a secret A-10 Thunderbolt simulation facility, according to an article in TIME magazine.
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Featuring Ukrainian Army officer Lt. Alexander Gorgan, it explains how he came into contact with former US diplomats, generals, Ukrainian businessmen, Department of Defense officials, online games and military aviation enthusiasts to create the A-10 ad hoc simulation center.
Gorgan first came across a March 3 article by former US Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker and former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, retired US Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, arguing for granting A-10 to Ukraine. He then found a wealth of knowledge about the A-10 on various forums hosted by military aviation enthusiasts.
A YouTube channel had footage from 2020 of A-10 pilots from the U.S. Air Force’s 355th Training Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, sitting in front of computer terminals practicing complex maneuvers using virtual reality headsets.
With the video suggesting the squadron found the virtual form of training very effective, Gorgan concluded it could also be the way forward for Ukraine.
He got in touch with his former boss, business school teammate and real estate developer Andrii Vavrysh, who bought the VR headsets, replicas of A-10 controls made by online hobbyists and computers.
Vavrysh got in touch with Oleksandr Polishchuk, his business school friend and current Deputy Defense Minister, who commissioned the Ukrainian Air Force to identify pilots for the project.
Ukraine needs the F-16, not the A-10
Many commentators point out that the A-10 II Thunderbolt (or Warthog) is best suited in a cleared environment with non-complex air combat scenarios where air superiority has been more or less achieved.
Ironically, the reasons that inspired the development of the A-10 for the United States are the same reasons that do not apply to Ukraine, given the military-technological scenario.
Experience in Vietnam highlighted the need for a low-flying, slow-moving ground-attack aircraft whose pilot can see where he is hitting, be more accurate, and have more “loitering time” to keep going. cannon and missile races.
Fast-flying, fuel-hungry F-15s, F-18s, or F-16s cannot descend lower and slower beyond a point to be the constant aerial surveillance and infantry weapons package .
So came the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt, with the unorthodox and radical GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon (or Gatling cannon) under the chin that could fire 3,900 rounds of 30mm depleted uranium per minute.
While it can also carry a host of dropped bombs, guided bombs, Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, and even a pair of AIM-9X Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles (AAMs), another defining feature is the bathtub.’ The 1.5-inch-thick enclosure, encasing the aircraft’s cockpit, brought pilots back to safety while taking devastating return fire and ripping through the most chilling damage.
The A-10 played this role with gusto in Iraq and Afghanistan, making multiple passes over ground targets and fortified buildings with the GAU Avenger’s signature “brrrt” riddled the structures with devastating damage. But these were theaters and countries without airpower, and the enemy combatants were non-state actors organizing counter-insurgency guerrilla warfare.
Additionally, A-10s operate when skies have been sufficiently cleared by F-16s and F-15s prior to Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) and Air Domination operations.
Breedlove told TIME that the Ukrainians “do not have (the) capability of SEAD, jamming, noise jamming, specific radar jamming to make the target area more permissive (for) the A-10s to work in a high or medium threat arena.”
A-10 against Russian tanks
While Breedlove praised the A-10 as an “incredible tank killing machine”, this capability is limited even against the Soviet tanks it was designed for.
In 1979, the Naval Post-Graduate School tested the effectiveness of the A-10 and its powerful gun against Soviet T-62 tanks of the 1950s at low angles of attack. They found that hitting the T-62 from the front caused “negligible weapon effects” while attacking the tank from the side and rear was “more favorable” and “got all the punctures”.
The tank test fires were conducted at less than 200 feet and at ranges between 1,587 feet and 4,400 feet, where 93 of the 957 shells fired hit the tanks. Of the 93, only 17 were qualified as perforations.
The T-62 has 100 mm thick front armor. Indeed, penetrating the armor is not necessary, and damaging the suspension or the engines that disable the tank is sufficient. A stationary tank with systems such as malfunctioning generators is easier to kill for its tanks or rocket launcher and anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) firing teams.
But in Ukraine, the losses of thousands of Russian tanks did not slow their progress for two reasons. First, they relied not on their armor but on their long-range artillery, cruise missiles and limited air support.
Second, their highly advanced defense industry is already resistant to export sanctions and can quickly breed more tanks to replace those lost in battle.
The most used Russian tank in the Ukrainian war, the T-72, has front armor almost 200 mm thick. Kontakt-5 Explosive Reactive Amour (ERA) detonates rocket warheads prematurely and also provides an additional layer of protection.
To be able to fly the aircraft in contested airspace and hit Russian tanks from the sides and rear requires several months of rigorous training on the A-10 and full experience of its handling characteristics, whether simulator pilots do not.
That’s if the United States approves the sale of the A-10. President Joe Biden has balked at selling weapons that could bring war to Russia and escalate it to attract the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
If the sale is approved, the initial accommodation and transit from another NATO country will make it a target for Russia. As Europe faces an unprecedented recession and energy crisis due to reduced gas purchases from Russia, these countries are unlikely to agree to become a legitimate target.
However, George Stathakis, a US Army veteran, points out in a Twitter feed that the latest version, the A-10C, has a missile warning system (MWS) and an ALQ-ECM pod. The two, in conjunction, can identify and block the incoming missile or select a countermeasure such as flares or chaff to deflect a shoulder-launched man-portable air defense system (MANPAD).
Nevertheless, the larger Russian SAM systems like the S-300, S-400, Buk and Tor-M2, in addition to air superiority fighters like the Su-35 and Su-30, are a whole other game. of ball. It’s another matter that if the A-10 has never been in aerial combat, it can still hold its own in “turning combat”, according to an analysis by Sandboxx.
But the chances of such a situation occurring on the battlefield would be low, and even if they did and the A-10 prevailed, it would amount to nothing more than a tactical victory that would not change. the outcome of the war.
Ukrainian officials and American experts are skeptical
A separate RAND Company study had this to say about the use of A-10 in high-risk environments. “In a higher threat environment, many of the A-10’s tactics would put the aircraft at high risk of being shot down.
Indeed, against very high quality air defenses, most current USAF and Navy aircraft would operate at considerable risk.
A Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) spokesman, Yuri Ignat, dispelled all doubts by speaking Ukrainian truths. After “liking the idea of enthusiasts” working on the secret A-10 training center, he said Ukraine needed “multifunctional combat aircraft capable of using weapons against targets aerial and terrestrial.
“In particular, these are American F-16, F-15 or F-18 multi-role fighters with certain modifications or their European counterparts,” defense news portal Bulgarian Military quoted it as saying. .