“MANPADS s**k. They’re Gollum… and you’re Frodo, flying around in The One Ring,” Lynn Taylor, former A-10 Warthog pilot.
The A-10 Warthog is the first US Air Force (USAF) aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. They are simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against light maritime attack aircraft and all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles.
The aircraft can survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high explosive projectiles up to 23mm. Their self-sealing fuel cells are protected by internal and external foam. Manual systems back up their redundant hydraulic flight-control systems. This permits pilots to fly and land when hydraulic power is lost.
But how does the A-10 stack up against MANPADS?
‘They’re Gollum… and you’re Frodo, flying around in The One Ring.
‘Still, the A-10 has proven quite survivable against MANPADS that get close enough to do damage.
‘On the upside, most MANPADS have IR seekers, which means they chase heat. The A-10’s engines are designed to get most of their (limited) thrust from bypass air, so they run a lot cooler than other jets, making it harder to lock on to, especially at longer ranges.
‘Also, the way the A-10’s exhaust is shielded by the twin tails helps make it difficult for those pesky MANPADS to get a good lock on the Hawg from the side.
‘If someone shoots a MANPAD at you nose-on… well… you can imagine how that’s going to go for the launcher. You pop flares, maneuver some to get out of the way of the missile while it chases the flares, then adjust your nose to settle your gun reticle on the launch point. A little half second BRRRRTTTTT to say “how ya’ doin’?” and press on (extracting your seat cushion from your fourth point of contact as able).
‘Of course, you’re probably going to have a MANPAD looking up your hot tailpipe at some point (like when you’re coming off target), or some other strange angle where they can see your exhaust, which is when they have a really good chance of ruining your day. That’s what flares are for, and is why you usually want to pop flares during your entire attack run, beginning to end.
‘Compounding your troubles is that getting shot at from behind is often harder to notice. Since MANPADS don’t give off radar warnings, you may not even know you’re being shot at until there’s this strange “thump” and warning lights flash on in the cockpit.
‘I don’t know the exact tally of A-10 losses due to MANPADS, but we have lost some. At least, we think we have.
‘2951 CLSS A-10 Warthog Combat Losses in Desert Storm is a great recounting of A-10 losses in Desert Storm. Of the six listed, most losses are from bigger SAMs (SA-9 and SA-13) or AAA (57mm S-60 most likely). None are from a confirmed MANPAD, though there’s a “maybe” there.
‘It’s more common that MANPAD damage really messed up the jet, but resulted in a great photo op for the pilot. See 2951 CLSS ABDR Photos for some of these.’
‘Here are a few MANPAD hits on A-10s that made it home to tell about it:
31 Jan 1991, Tail # 540
‘SAM hit. Lost hydraulics. Flew back. Landed.
‘Sat out the rest of the war due to lack of parts.
6 Feb 1991, Tail # 664
‘Okay, this may not be SAM damage. I couldn’t find out for sure. But, IIRC, this is the jet that had two of three wing spars broken and still made it home safely. Impressive! (IMNSHO)
15 Feb 1991, Tail # 186
‘SA-16 hit referred to as “300 holes.” Jet was flying again 7 days later.
22 Feb 1991, Tail # 181
‘Unspecified SAM hit. This landing is legendary: no-hydraulics, wheels-up. They cannibalized the jet for parts and buried the bones. It never flew again.
27 Feb 1991, Tail # 197
‘Sad Story. Perhaps encouraged by the successful landing of tail # 181 five days earlier (see immediately above), this guy took a SAM hit, flew back home, and tried to land it (single engine, bad weather). It flipped. He died.’
‘But WAIT! There’s MORE!
‘Battle Creek Guard A-10. (Sorry, not much detail on this one, but it’s cool.)
‘EDIT: Additional information courtesy of David Myers on Quora:
‘Battle Creek jet was A/C 80–0258 flown by Major Gary Wolfe, 110th FW, 172ndFS. We waited for a week or so for a new nacelle from depot, but had it back in the fight in a week or so! Now (still) flying for the Michigan Air National Guard out of Selfridge ANGB, 127ath Wing, 107th FS Red Devils.
7 Apr 2003, Tail # Unknown
‘Over Baghdad. Suspected SA-16, IIRC? Lost all hydraulics, but both engines were still running. Flew back. Landed.
‘And the pilot, Capt Kim Campbell, Hawgdriver.’
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force