One of these three planes could replace the A-10

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

The Air Force is considering three light attack planes to (partially) replace the A-10 Warthog:

The three planes—the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine, and Textron Scorpion—will fly this Summer at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. The OA-X, or “Observation, Attack, concept,” envisions a small, nimble airplane that can carry a large payload of sensors and weapons. Flown by a pilot and copilot/observer, the small plane could carry out strike and close air support missions in support of ground troops.

OA-X is seen as half of a two airplane solution for eventually replacing the A-10 Thunderbolt. OA-X is a smaller, cheaper plane that would thrive where the air defense threat is limited to shoulder-fired missiles and machine guns. Another key requirement is that the plane be cheaper to fly per hour than the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or A-10. The F-35 costs a whopping $42,000 an hour to fly, while the A-10 costs $17,000 an hour. The Air Force envisions the OA-X costing about $4,000 to $5,000 an hour.

A-29 Super Tucano

AT-6 Wolverine

Textron AirLand Scorpion Jet


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    None of these planes could survive doing an A10 mission. Using them instead of a properly armored, high survivability aircraft would be suicide. If one of them is chosen, then a large number of CAS missions would no longer be performed, leaving our ground forces on their own.

  2. Bob, the CAS mission has bifurcated in the last 20 years or so, something the article does a poor job of explaining (not unexpected given it’s from Popular Mechanics). These planes would replace the true close-air-support mission, which is to say the eyeballs-on-target CAS that can now only be conducted in environments with minimal enemy air-defenses. That’s why they’re lighter, unarmored aircraft.

    The increasing proliferation of ever-better MANPADS and radar-guided guns (like those of the ZSU family) has closed off the lower tier of enemy airspace to aircraft, regardless of how well armored they may be.

    We’ve reached a point where, against even many third-world militaries, A-10-style armor suffices to maybe save the pilot and possibly even allows them to get the aircraft home, but the likelihood is that too many sorties will have to turn back before reaching the target to justify the cost of the aircraft. Even in the First Gulf War the A-10s got chewed up a fair bit, though 25 years ago things weren’t yet so bad as to render them ineffective.

    From now one, CAS against all but the most primitive of enemies is necessarily going to have to be performed via smart-munitions (bomb or missile) from mid to high altitude. We’ve gained a lot of experience with that in Afghanistan and Iraq (that was mostly what the A-10s were doing there, too; the gun ended up being dead-weight for most missions), enough to see that it’s a workable method. There are some potential issues with using it against a more savvy foe, but there’s simply not much choice at this point.

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