This first Lock On will be about the development, history and near future of the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. The A-10 was basically designed around it's massive GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon which spits out a dazzling 3900 rounds per minute or 70 rounds per second. In fact the fuselage of the aircraft is built around it. The A-10 came out as a winner in a contest, following a request for proposal, between the Northrop YA-9A and the Fairchild Republic YA-10A. This RFP was issued because the threat of armored Soviet forces had become more and more serious. The A-10 would be the first aircraft to be build for one purpose only: CAS or Close Air Support. Two prototypes were eventually build and the rest of the production would be at Fairchild in Hagerstown Maryland. The first production A-10 would fly in October 1975. In total 715 planes would be produced with the last one being delivered in 1984. For ECM and Night and Adverse Weather (N/AW) purposes a dual A-10 was built (actually a modified A-10A) but that design didn't make it to production.

The first unit to receive the 'Warthog' or 'Hog', as the plane is named by it's crews, was the 355th TFW based at Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona. The first unit to achieve full combat readiness would be the 354th though. The 354th TFW was based at the now closed Myrtle Beach AFB in South Carolina (Tailcode 'MB'). Other USAF units to receive Hogs were the 23rd TFW based at England AFB (LA), 343rd Wing at Eielson AFB (AK), the 51st FW based at Osan AFB (Korea) and off course the largest wing of them all, the 81st TFW based at Woodbridge/Bentwaters in England. Also Air National Guard and Reserve-units were/are equiped with the A-10. This was the first time ever that the Air National Guard received factoryfresh front-line aircraft. First deliveries to the Guard were in 1981. In the first years of operating the A-10's had a two-tone grey scheme as the USAF thought that grey was an effective camouflage against enemy fighters. The opposite was actually true. The A-10's probable theater of operations was Europe and due to the fact the A-10 as tank-killer would fly very low over mostly green forests a green paintscheme was adopted: European One. Later in it's operational life this would change again to grey ( Compass Ghost) as most A-10's were pulled back out off the European (green) theater of operations. With this two-tone scheme came the false canopy painted on the underside of the plane.

The A-10 can attain a combat speed at sea level of 425mph but in most missions it will fly at a low speed of 300mph. That makes the A-10 the only plane to get a birdstrike from behind ! Due to the relatively low speed the A-10 is a much better platform for ground-attack and CAS than fast moving jets. The A-10 is also a tough airplane and can survive direct hits from up to 23mm. It has double redundant flight systems and is designed to fly with only one engine, one tail, one elevator and one wing. The pilot sits in a titanium 'bathtub' and the canopy can take small firearms. The two General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbofan engines are placed high on the fuselage for groundcrews to service the plane while the motors are still running and to avoid foreign object damage. First weapon of choice is off course the brutal 30mm GAU-8/A cannon but the A-10 is not only the cannon. It can also fire AGM-65 Maverick air-to--surface missiles and laser guided bombs. For self defence the Hog carries a ALQ-131 ECM pod and two AIM-9 Sidewinders AAM's.

The A-10 has received some major upgrades during the years. The most important upgrades without a doubt is that of receiving an improved fire control system, eletronic countermeasures and smart bombing targeting systems. These upgrades were such a big improvement that the A-10's that received the upgrades were redesginated A-10C's. Most recent upgrade is that of fitting new wings to the entire A-10 fleet. But the programme is put on hold due to the plans of retiring the Warthog. The first time the A-10 saw combat was during the first Gulf War in 1991. The Hog destroyed 900 enemy tanks, 2,000 armored and other vehicles and 1,200 artillery pieces. Even two air-to-air kills were noted as A-10's shot down two Iraqi choppers with their GAU-8 30mm cannon ! On the other hand four A-10's were shot down during the conflict by surface-to-air missiles. Because of these great successes in the first Gulf War the USAF abandoned the idea to replace the A-10 by a CAS-variant of the F-16. The A-10 also saw combat action during the conflict in Bosnia during Delibrate Force and in Kosovo during Operation Allied Force. Furthermore the A-10 came into action during deployments to Afganistan and during Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the latter one A-10 was shot down. In these conflicts the A-10 once again proved to be a magnificient CAS-plane.

But despite those great achievements made by the Warthog the USAF wants to retire the whole fleet earlier than supposed to a few years ago. The plan is to achieve major savings in favour of the F-35. But these plans were met by great resistance even by important political figures like Senator John McCain from Arizona (Arizona houses off course Davis Monthan AFB which is one of the biggest employers in the Tucson-area). Arguments of those opposed are that less importance placed on ground support would risk lives of those on the ground. In Fiscal Year 2015 the House Armed Services Committee passed an amendment to their 2015 markup blocking a full A-10 retirement. Only 36 A-10's will be put in back up status leaving about 250 A-10's operating within USAF, Guard and Reserves. The future of the A-10 is very uncertain with service leaders admitting that a follow-on weapon system for the A-10 is on the table but that it will take 15 years to fully develop it. Untill that time the idea is that F-16's and F-15E's initially take up CAS and by the time there are enough F-35's the F-35's would fly CAS untill the replacement CAS-plane is fully operational. But nothing is for sure with the A-10 and despite several attempts to retire the Hog it still graces the skies supporting the grunts on the ground.