The notion of integrating stand-off weapons (SOWs) on the A-10 was first hatched 10 years ago

Saturday, June 11th, 2022

There is a joke that discussions of getting rid of the A-10 started 2.5 minutes after the last one rolled off the Fairchild-Republic assembly line in 1984. How does a jet under constant threat of divestment adapt and evolve to support the ever-changing mission?

The notion of integrating stand-off weapons (SOWs) on the A-10 was first hatched 10 years ago, but never gained traction due to the threat of divestment. […] The first proposal was the ADM-160 Miniature Air-Launched Decoy, also known as MALD. Carried by the F-16 and B-52, the MALD is a low-cost combat capability that offers mission and combatant commanders the opportunity to saturate an air defense picture and increase the survivability of our 5th-gen assets. When planned and utilized properly, a few dozen decoys can wreak havoc on the defenses of a sophisticated potential enemy like Russia or China.

The A-10C has up to 10 weapons stations available. In today’s Air Force, where new fighters have fewer weapons stations in order to prioritize internal carriage and stealth, the A-10’s sheer volume of available weapons stations is a force multiplier. The MALD weighs about 300 pounds and has a range of approximately 500 miles. It is programmable and aims to duplicate the signatures and flight profiles of combat aircraft, inducing confusion and noise into the enemy air defense picture and complicating their tactical decision-making. A single MALD can be loaded directly onto a station, or two MALD can be loaded on a triple-ejector rack. This enables a single A-10 to carry up to 16 MALD, which is as many as a B-52 can hold and 12 more than an F-16 can. To further break it down, a four-ship formation of A-10s could bring up to 64 MALD to a fight. The A-10’s robust, agile combat employment capabilities (low maintenance footprint and ability to operate from unimproved or makeshift runway surfaces) combined with the ability to carry 16 MALD per aircraft, provides combatant commanders the ability to create multi-axis problems, target saturation, and horizontal escalation options for adversaries. No software integration with the jet’s central computer is required. Carriage and separation testing is the only cost to consider.


The second proposal, the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile or JASSM, is the next step in the A-10’s evolution of mission support. The JASSM is a low-observable, air-launched cruise missile, which has become so strategically important to combatant commanders, that it has been integrated onto the F-15E, F-16, F/A-18, F-35, B-1, B-52, and even the B-2. Initial assessments and theorizing suggests that the A-10 could potentially carry four to five of the missiles. For comparison, the F-15E is the only fighter that can carry more than two JASSM (the Strike Eagle can carry up to five JASSM), while the bomber fleet can carry between 12 and 24 of the munitions, depending on the platform. Although this may not have the same sticker shock associated with the MALD, the A-10 can offer combatant commanders an additional four to five JASSM per sortie, and leverage integrated combat turns (ICTs) to increase sortie production. Risk mitigation demands more SOWs employment, and the carriage capacity combined with the quick-turn capability of the A-10C should be considered as a means to increase the Mass the USAF can provide to a combatant commander. This is not about taking the JASSM away from bombers and other fighters. This is about bringing more weapons to bear in a shorter span of time, which is a critical component of massing fires.


Imagine a rapidly-deployable force of non-nuclear fighters that can operate from the most austere locations with a minimal footprint while providing long range fires, decoys, electronic attack, and mission support. That vision is achievable at minimal cost by using assets and capabilities that the Air Force already has, but simply needs to integrate. That is what stand-off weapon integration on the A-10 can provide to combatant commanders.


  1. Ezra says:

    People, so-called experts, since the 1920′s have been announcing the demise of the tank, too. Anti-tank guns at the time and ATGM now.

    If the aircraft carrier is so vulnerable with modern weapons, why are the Chinese building them in bigger and bigger classes?

  2. Kunning Druegger says:

    Ezra, I think PLAN is pursuing carriers for the utility they provide for invasion as an extension of air support, not as a blue water navy in the same way the US uses them. The carriers are specifically for the first island chain in terms of offense, and delivering strike packages for Special Operations and Police Actions in theaters they control, like the East Coast of Africa. This is just conjecture on my part. It could very well be the case that the Carrier Project was initiated long ago, and now it continues due to bureaucratic inertia, not strategic logic.

  3. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Aircraft carriers will continue to be useful for colonial-type actions against under-armed goat herders.

    Apart from that, why might China be interested in building aircraft carriers? One analog might be the USSR’s space shuttle — which flew only once. USSR scientists had followed NASA announcements about building a “reusable” space shuttle, and quickly worked out that the “reusable” shuttle was going to be much more expensive than throw-away rockets.

    So what were those devious Yankees up to? USSR scientists thought that they must be missing some important factor which NASA was not talking about. So the USSR built its own space shuttle — and confirmed that it was indeed a less economical way of getting into space.

    Perhaps the only way China can learn fully about the strengths & weaknesses of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers is to build & operate one themselves?

  4. roo_ster says:

    “Quantity has a quality all its own.” Supposedly said by J Stalin. Looks like the A-10 may be able to do the heavy lifting newer fighters can not.

    US air dominance is still not assured in the face of contemporary Russian anti-air and air power, but this sort of thing might help if our leaders are so foolish as to involve us in such a conflict.

  5. TRX says:

    “The A-10C has up to 10 weapons stations available.”

    A fully-equipped Warthog looks like a flying junkyard.

    Of course, it’s not really an airplane. It’s just a high-speed “mobility platform” for the GAU-8, the gun so awesome they put wings on it.

  6. Lucklucky says:

    Quite bad math in that MALD account between F-16 and A-10, even worse the differences with mission profile range, cruise speed etc.

    The A-10 is an obsolete plane that can be useful in some circumstances. Just that. I find it quite bizarre the strange attachment some people have to it, some sort of medieval sword.

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