Kicked Up Hogs: The A-10A+ Program
The A-10C Thunderbolt (aka. Warthog, or Hog) close air support aircraft program has begun fielding aircraft for use in Iraq, where the new SADL data link and targeting pod + ROVER compatibility in particular have made a big difference in the air and on the ground. The A-10C is a deep refurbishing program that will take some time to perform all of the required conversions, however, and so the US Air National Guard & USAF Reserves are moving to field some of its key capabilities right now, via a quick A-10A+ upgrade that doesn’t involve redoing the wiring and power layout, changing the data bus, et. al.
That program was the obliquely-discussed subject of an October 2007 release from BAE Systems; after working with them, we’re able to explain the full program and its key benefits in more detail…
The A-10A+ program leverages BAE’s smart color displays, which were installed as upgrades in a number of ANG and Reserve aircraft during 2006 to provide moving map displays et. al. Under A-10A+, the same SADL(Situational Awareness Data Link) radios used by the A-10Cs are inserted to receive information re: the position of friendly forces, and that information is routed through the smart color display into the pilot’s Head Up Display (HUD) for viewing.
In contrast, the A-10C picks the higher-performance, higher-growth path of integrating the SADL radio into the A-10C’s new central computing system, which passes the data to aircraft fire control and then to the HUD. The A-10A+ requires no additional modifications in order to get that information to the HUD, however; and it achieves the immediate goal of having the pilot look through just one display to target and aim weapons, making friendly fire incidents much easier to avoid.
The other critical A-10A+ capability involves integration of LITENING AT targeting pods so they transmit targeting coordinates directly to the plane’s integrated fire/flight control systems. While this doesn’t add the A-10C’s highly-praised ROVER video feed capability for JTAC forward air controllers, it is a huge improvement over having the pilot see the coordinates on one screen, then key them into the fire control system using a pad near one’s thigh, while flying an aircraft at low level. Not exactly insurer-recommended, that.
BAE Systems is developing the aircraft modification in its Johnson City, NY facility, which includes an on-site integration laboratory. SADL integration began in September 2007, and the modified planes are just going into flight test early November 2007 at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ. The first A-10A+ squadron is expected to finish modifications in January 2008, and will deploy shortly thereafter in Q2 FY 2008. The program is expected to be complete by the middle of calendar year 2008, giving a run time of about 8 months from initial work, through testing, to final upgrade for about 100 aircraft. The A-10C program will proceed in parallel, fielding fully modified fighters to the front lines at a slower pace until it catches up with the A-10A+ fleet in its final stages.