The US Air Force has effectively reversed a year-old commitment by senior leaders to re-engine its 356-strong fleet of Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack aircraft. The service's A-10s will now not be fitted with new engines, but the USAF has announced plans to launch a three-year design and development programme in fiscal year 2006 to upgrade the aircraft's existing General Electric TF34-100A powerplants.

"The [upgrade] kit approach offers best value, yet meets A-10 and warfighter needs and provides the fastest delivery of the propulsion upgrade at a significantly lower risk. This modification approach saves three to four years over development," the USAF says in an acquisition notice posted on 25 January. The air force is now seeking potential sources for the $160 million engine upgrade development programme, with current A-10 prime contractor Lockheed Martin serving as lead integrator.

Modifications are aimed at allowing the A-10 to achieve a higher climb rate, receive in-flight refuelling at increased altitude, take off despite losing an engine at rotation and deliver improved reliability. The first engine upgrade deliveries are timed to coincide with the last tranche of A-10s completing the first spiral of the Precision Engagement (PE) upgrade programme, says Roger Il Grande, Lockheed's programme manager.

The PE modification, which upgrades the single-seat aircraft to the A-10C, entered a roughly nine-month flight-test period late last month (Flight International, 25-31 January).


Source: Flight International