Initially, GAU-8 gun deterred US from sending A-10 ‘Hog’ to Ukraine

The outbreak of a full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine in February 2022 sparked speculation that the United States might aid Ukraine by supplying A-10 Warthog ground attack jets. This potential move was viewed as a significant increase in arms assistance to the embattled country. 

A-10 Warthog ground attack jets to be retired may end up in Ukraine
Photo credit: USAF / Staff Sgt. Justin Parsons

Even though the A-10 Warthog class was introduced in 1977, making it 45 years old at the time of the conflict, it still retains its status as the West’s premier choice for close air support. Interestingly, this aircraft was conceived during the Cold War era, with a specific aim – to thwart Soviet armored units. 

The possibility of a transfer gained momentum not only due to the planned retirement of newer A-10s by the U.S. Air Force – jets that still have many service years ahead- but also because the aircraft’s capacities perfectly matched the conditions on the Ukrainian front. 

A-10 Warthog ground attack jets to be retired may end up in Ukraine
Photo credit: YouTube

Compared to other American combat jets, the A-10’s operational costs and maintenance demands are markedly lower. Moreover, similar to Soviet aircraft and unlike fighter jets such as the F-16, the A-10 is perfectly suited for frontline operations from shorter or improvised airbases.

The reasons

Initially, a key concern in granting Ukraine access to the A-10 was linked to the primary weapon’s dependency on the GAU-8 seven-barrel rotary cannon. This cannon uses depleted uranium rounds capable of penetrating modern armor. Nevertheless, the issue was mitigated when Britain began supplying these disputed types of ordinance in early 2023, closely supported by the United States itself. 

Goodbye Warthog: end of service for the American attack A-10 fleet
Photo credit: US Army

A previously undisclosed viewpoint regarding constraints on the delivery of A-10s was highlighted by The Telegraph, a London-based newspaper. The report revealed Washington’s concerns about damaging the reputation of its defense and aerospace sectors, should A-10s incur substantial harm on Ukrainian soil.

The Russian air defense density

The decision to delay the delivery of attack jets was informed by the pressing threat they were expected to confront. There was a significant risk of several U.S.-manufactured aircraft crashing in a fiery inferno, without making any substantial contribution to Ukraine’s war efforts. 

Russia buys 1000 long-range 40N6 anti-aircraft missiles for S-400
Photo credit: Reddit

This brought to light the focus of Russian ground-based air defenses along the disputed borders, which were responsible for the extensive losses suffered by Ukrainian aircrews. Towards the end of 2022, multiple Western sources stressed how the threats to Ukrainian aviation had sharply escalated. This risk was further intensified by the deployment of MiG-31BM interceptors, equipped with the R-37M – the longest-range, active air-to-air missile worldwide, close to Ukraine to assist in combat operations.

A-10 is ‘questionable’ for Ukraine

When pondering the A-10’s historical combat performance, specifically during the Gulf War of 1991, its effectiveness in Ukraine could be considered uncertain. This uncertainty originates from the aircraft’s past encounters with Iraqi short-ranged air defenses, which inflicted considerable damage or even caused total destruction to 20 aircraft. Consequently, operations in the region were temporarily suspended. 

S-400 jointly with A-50 AEW&C shot down Su-27 and MiG-29 - Russia
Photo credit: LinkedIn

Significantly, the damage incurred was substantial, despite the poor state of Iraqi air defenses and the widespread disorganization of their armed forces. The deliberate and calculated deployment of American military resources underscores the lessons learned from these past experiences. The United States has consistently endeavored to prevent similar occurrences. A prime example is the delayed and strategic positioning of their M1 Abrams tanks, contrasting the German Leopard 2 and British Challenger 2 tanks, which experienced heavy casualties in Ukraine. 

Despite the positioning of American Bradley Fighting Vehicles at the frontlines, they endured massive losses, with estimates indicating that over 70 were either eradicated or captured. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to note that these somewhat outdated, less conspicuous assets do not significantly impact the overall image of the American defense sector. 

The expectation of heavy losses

The U.S. Air Force Plans to Spend $999 Million for A-10 Wing Replacement
Photo credit: Boeing

Many believe that the reluctance of the U.S. to export F-16 fighters to Ukraine, unlike its European allies, is mainly due to the potential for significant losses. It’s believed that the outdated Cold War-era models dispatched might be utilized far from the front lines, and possibly only when a ceasefire agreement is nearing conclusion by the year’s end. 

Additionally, U.S. authorities have consistently underestimated the confirmed Russian attacks on Patriot air defense systems in Ukraine. These systems are among the most recognizable and expensive weapons that have been dispatched to the country.

New records

Greece has Soviet S-300, but will not be sanctioned, the US said
Photo credit: AFP

Russian air defenses have set new records by successfully eliminating targets from great distances. This was achieved by the S-400 system paired with the 40N6 missile, specially designed to target beyond radar reach. This was accomplished during tests in early November. 

The system employs target data from aircraft allowing it to eliminate objects 400km away, even if they fly remarkably low. However, it’s interesting to point out that Russia’s longest-ranged anti-aircraft missiles from their S-500 system are not currently operational in Ukraine. 

Although Russian fighter planes have fallen behind their Western and Chinese peers since the Cold War, the country’s investment in land-based air defense systems has increased incredibly. Now, Russia leads the world in this arena. 

The Ukrainian Air Force has been reinforced by a variety of new combat aircraft from across the globe. These reinforcements include MiG-29 fighters, which the Soviet Union exported to Warsaw Pact nations in the 80s and early 90s.

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