With the roar of F-22s circling in the skies over Langley Air Force Base, the Air Combat Command celebrated the arrival of the first combat-ready A-10 that -- four years and $500 million later -- can drop a smart bomb.
While the precision weapon revolution swept over the rest of the US fighter fleet from the early 1990s, it took repeated intervention and powerful clout to digitize the A-10C Warthog cockpit, giving the pilot the tools to send a 500 to 2,000lb bomb to a precise GPS-based coordinate.
Despite the warm feelings among the A-10 fliers and maintainters gathered inside the hangar, it was clear something very important was still missing. This missing 'something' perhaps provoked General Ronald Keys, chief of the Air Combat Command and a former Warthog pilot, to utter what may sadly become one of the most unfortunately memorable quotes in the A-10's storied history.
"This is not the 'Super Hog' that we envisioned, but this is a 'better-than-average Hog," Keys said.
The concept of the Super Hog died in 2005 with the demise of an engine upgrade program. The A-10's TF34 engines are exceptionally reliable, but underpowered. Pilots in the heat of Iraq and the altitude of Afghanistan complain that they can take off with either a full load of fuel or a full load of weapons, but not both. When carrying a full load of bombs, the A-10s takeoff and immediately hit a tanker (if one is available).
The A-10C's smart bomb capability will make the aircraft much more attractive as a combat asset, but, alas, is still half of a Super Hog.