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Posted on Feb 4, 2006 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Warthog: Flying the A-10 in the Gulf War – Book Review

By Richard N Story

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Book Review: Warthog: Flying the A-10 in the Gulf War.
Potomac Books, 2005, Paperback.

Flying is an inherently dangerous business. Flying for the military is even more dangerous than civilian flying due to the fact that you have people trying to actively shoot you down, but flying low, slow jets over some of the densest anti-aircraft envelopes is surely the most dangerous flying of all. Warthog: Flying the A-10 in the Gulf War by William L. Smallwood examines the role of the celebrated close air support (CAS) jet during the first Iraqi War.

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The celebrated Warthog was not always as popular as it is today. The fact is that the airplane was completely unwanted by the Air Force, but was designed and created to an Army demand for the CAS role. It could be argued that the Air Force designed and built the Warthog, or as it is officially named: A-10 Thunderbolt II, to keep the Army from ‘poaching’ on Air Force prerogatives. Despite the resistance to creating a dedicated CAS aircraft a lot of care and thought went into the design of the A-10. The two main criteria in designing the A-10 was: 1) creating the most formidable CAS aircraft possible and 2) maximizing the survivability of the aircraft and consequently the pilot over some of the most hostile airspace imaginable. The first criteria was solved by allowing the Warthog to carry an incredible ordinance load and then placing the massive GAU-8 cannon in the nose, a weapon capable of firing 30mm depleted uranium rounds. The second concern was achieved by giving the pilot a titanium bathtub. Other safety features included dual redundancies in the hydraulics and then adding a manual reversion in case both hydraulic systems failed. Engine placement was given careful thought both in terms of preventing foreign object damage, but also in shielding the engines from IR homing missiles. Perhaps the only real flaw, and its greatest, was the lack of consideration for all-weather flying instead of strictly daytime flying. Despite being the best CAS aircraft, the end of the Cold War saw the A-10 squadrons in the initial stages of being stood down. Then Iraq invaded Kuwait and the Commanders tasked with defending Saudi Arabia and, later on, forcibly removing the Iraqi Army from Kuwait, realized the need for the ugly plane the Air Force didn’t really want.

The A-10 was going to war, but actually getting the aircraft to the theatre of combat would prove to be as nearly harrowing as the actual combat the planes would see. A-10 squadrons were sent from England AFB in Louisiana and Myrtle Beach AFB in South Carolina. Transatlantic flying at night through storms in an airplane designed for daylight operations surely ranks as a remarkable achievement in itself. Both the pilots of the A-10s and the crews of the tanker aircraft, which not only served as the flying fuelling station but as guides for the Warthogs, deserve a special thanks and gratitude of the nation. Upon arriving in Saudi Arabia the Warthog crews discovered that the airfields they were assigned had primitive to nonexistent facilities. Still nobody had said that flying a CAS airplane would be easy for the mud in the eye pilots so they settled in and prepared to take the Warthog into combat.

When the air campaign started against the Iraqis, the Warthog found itself doing many different roles for which it was assigned. Some of the various roles included Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), reconnaissance both with instruments and visual observation (Forward Air Control – FAC), radar suppression, Scud hunting and ground attack. The A-10 was so versatile that two Warthogs were credited with two air to air kills on helicopters. But one drawback came back to haunt the Warthogs when they were given tasking that required night operations. Still the pilots used American ingenuity and discovered that the IR Maverick missiles could be used as a primitive night sight. Still as the pilots stated it was like looking through a drinking straw to find a target.

Many of the pilots going into the air campaign privately estimated a loss ratio up to fifty percent of their numbers, but it was a tribute to those designers who had designed the planes that the numbers were not higher. Many pilots, who would have otherwise been lost, flew planes back to base in aircraft with battle damage which meant the plane should have never even been able to fly, much less make it home. Still one can not expect to survive the war completely unscathed and the Warthog was no exception. Some combat losses are unexplained even today while at least one pilot was killed when his badly damaged Warthog flipped over on landing. At least two Warthog pilots were taken prisoner and tortured by the Iraqis, but survived to come home. When the war wound down it was discovered that the airplane the Air Force didn’t want had not only survived in an environment it wasn’t designed for, but that it had thrived and inflicted tremendous casualties on the enemy. Still the Warthog survived the war, but like the rest of the military after the Gulf War, faced another massive drawdown of forces. But the much loved Warthog still survives in the Air Force inventory and should continue flying for years to come.

Warthog: Flying the A-10 in the Gulf War was originally printed in 1993 right after the Gulf War by Brassey’s Books. This edition was printed in 2005 by Potomac Books (formerly Brassey’s) for the new ‘The Warriors’ series of books. William L. Smallwood, a former Air Force pilot, interviewed A-10 pilots, commanders and support personnel for the book. The text is flawless and absorbing and was very hard to put down. The illustrations substantially add to the text and they are plentiful for the size of the book. With a list price of $8.95 the book is well within the reach of every reader and is highly recommended for anybody who is interested in the A-10 or the Gulf War. Finally it would be remiss to not to add a personal salute to Major Jeffrey Watterberg and Lieutenant Eric Miller who had survived the Gulf War to only die when their A-10s collided in mid-air. Even in peacetime flying remains dangerous.

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