B-1B bombers and A-10 Warthogs over Philippine Sea
B-1Bs and A-10s over the Philippine Sea on November 9.US Air Force/Capt. Coleen Berryhill
  • The A-10 has a reputation for being a tank-killing ground-attack plane.

  • decoys were deployed to distract enemy air defenses in recent exercises.

  • As the US military shifts its focus to operations in the Pacific, there is a change happening.

The Air Force is testing a 50-year-old plane for a new mission, which is to protect other aircraft.

The A 10s were equipped with the Miniature Air Launched Decoy during the Pacific exercises.

The 8-foot-long MALD has a range of 500 miles and is described as a kind of cruise missile. The system mimics the radar signature and flight profiles of specific US aircraft. There is a variant of the MALD-J.

The aim is to confuse the enemy by launching MALDs ahead of the air strike.

A training version of the MALD was loaded onto an A10 on an island off the coast of Naval Air Station North Island in California.

US Air Force A-10 Warthog crew chief
A US Air Force crew chief prepares to launch an A-10 for Green Flag-West in California on November 9.US Air Force/Senior Airman Zachary Rufus

According to an Air Force news release, the A-10 can carry up to 16 MALDs, the same amount as the B-50 and 12 more than the F-16.

The MALD isn't being seen as a way to protect the A 10. The Warthog's decoys would be used to support other aircraft, such as fifth- generation F-35s and F-22s.

In an integrated strike mission simulation with B1-B bombers, A-10 pilots used MALDs during an exercise over the Philippine Sea.

Maj. Daniel Winningham, 37th Bomb Squadron B-1B instructor pilot, said that having a combat-proven platform like the A 10 provide support through their MALD decoys increases the probability that our aircraft and weapons successfully strike their targets.

The way the A-10 can help support the fifth- generation fight in support of a pacing threat is provide the unique capability to carry a multitude of weapons.

'How are we going to find the boats?'

An A-10 carrying a DATM-160 on California's San Clemente Island on November 7.US Air Force/Senior Airman Zachary Rufus

The decision to use the A-10 to haul decoys is odd since the MALD may be a useful way to protect US aircraft.

In the 70s, the Warthog was designed to destroy Soviet armored columns in Europe. Air Force planners expected heavy losses even with the powerful 30-mm cannon and anti-tank missiles it needed to survive the Soviet air defenses.

Longer-range decoy-laden aircraft, such as a cargo plane or a drone, might be more useful, especially across the vast Pacific, because the A 10 has a respectable range of 700 miles.

The A10 seems to be in search of a mission.

US airmen load an ADM-160 MALD on an A-10 at a base in Wisconsin on March 1.US Air National Guard/Tech. Sgt. Samara Taylor

The Warthog was thought to be too old to survive against Russian and Chinese air defense systems. The Warthog has continued to fly because of a popular image of him as an aerial tough guy that can dish out punishment and take it. The Congress relented this month and allowed the Air Force to retire A 10s.

Some argue that the A-10 would be useful in a war against China if it were armed with long-range missiles.

The mission in support of the B-1B was a great way to show how the A 10 can shift from a close-air-support team mindset to a strike team. Coleen Berryhill said in a release that they are building on their old principles to transform into the A 10 community.

The Green Flag-West exercise marked a change. The Air Force has used the exercise to train for years. The A-10s were trained to kill ships.

US Air Force Capt. Coleen Berryhill flies near a formation of B1-Bs and A-10s over the Philippine Sea on November 9.US Air Force/Capt. Coleen Berryhill

While the Warthog's cannon and missiles could destroy most warships, maritime strike would be a new mission that would be crucial in a conflict with China.

The Air Force worried about how they would find the boats during the planning phase of Green Flag. How can we find them and kill them?

The Air Force's growing focus on using rugged or improvised airfields in the Pacific is reflected in the fact that the A10 operated from an "austere" island off the California coast. This raises questions about the supply of fuel, bombs, and maintenance in forward areas.

The A-10 was designed in the 50's for an armor focused conflict. The Warthog's utility has been questioned by some Ukrainians, despite the fact that the US has not sent manned aircraft to Ukraine.

The US military's focus on the Pacific will only increase, but it's not clear if the A-10 has a role to play.

His work has been published in Forbes, Defense News, Foreign Policy magazine, and other publications. He has a masters degree in political science. You can follow him on social networking sites.

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