Dogfight of Ground Attack Titans: Russia’s Su-25 ‘Flying Tank’ vs. US Air Force A-10 Warthog
The Su-25’s 42,000-pound max takeoff weight makes it about 10,000 pounds lighter than the A-10, which can take off with 50,000 pounds, yet both planes have similar attributes.
U.S. ground troops caught under enemy fire over the past several decades of battle have cultivated and regularly expressed an unparalleled love, reverence, and appreciation for the life-saving A-10, an aircraft known as a “flying tank.”
Those U.S. soldiers and servicemembers saved by the A-10 will likely be quick to tell you the Warthog has no equivalent anywhere in the world.
Russia Has an A-10 Equivalent
What about Russia?
Does their Air Force have a “flying tank” equivalent? Seems unlikely, yet the Soviet-era Su-25 is a combat-tested workhorse with a long history of supporting ground troops in military conflict.
First emerging in 1975, the Sukhoi Su-25 is a single-seat, twin-engine jet designed to provide close air support; the aircraft therefore not surprisingly spent many years attacking the Afghan Mujahideen in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war and also supported Russian forces in the war in Chechnya.
Su-25s, called Frogfoot by the West, have also been widely exported and served in support of the Macedonian and Iraqi Air Forces as well as with a number of former Soviet republics such as Georgia, which broke off when the Soviet Union collapsed.
An article in Military-Today says the c has been exported to Angola, Bulgaria, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Macedonia, North Korea, Peru, Slovakia, Sudan, and possibly some other countries.
Russia’s Su-25 “Flying Tank” Comparable, Yet Smaller, to the A-10
With a 47-foot wingspan, the Su-25 is smaller than the A-10, yet able to load up hardpoints with a heavy payload. The Su-25’s 42,000-pound max takeoff weight makes it about 10,000 pounds lighter than the A-10, which can take off with 50,000 pounds, yet both planes have similar attributes. Their ranges are roughly equivalent in the range of 600 to 800 miles and they are both heavily armed.
The Su-25 fires a 30mm Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-30 autocannon which may not compare favorably with the A-10’s famous 30mm cannon aligned directly below the nose of the aircraft to enable a straight-on attack.
Available specs don’t fully specify the materials used for the Su-25 fuselage, and the aircraft is doubtless built to withstand small arms fire, yet it may not rival the A-10 famous titanium hull, able to absorb massive amounts of incoming fire.
Of equal significance, the Su-25 may not have comparable built-in redundancy to enable the aircraft to keep flying and operating even when key components are The Russian Air Force operates a Su-25 fleet of roughly 250 aircraft and more modern variants have been upgraded with improved technologies.
Russian Su-25s continue to be used in the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, and available reports indicate a number of them have been destroyed and shot down by Ukrainian forces using Stinger missiles or MANPADs.
Multiple reports of destroyed Su-25s in Ukraine might suggest that the aircraft does not have built-in redundancies or protections equivalent to the A-10.
It is difficult to envision the existence of any combat aircraft as cherished, celebrated, and loved as the iconic A-10 Warthog. Not only has the aircraft performed famously in combat for decades, but the aircraft itself seems “alive” with a survival instinct as it has withstood years of Air Force attempts to retire the aircraft.
Keeping the A-10 from Extinction
Congressional and Pentagon advocates, including many combat-experienced ground troops saved by the A-10, have fought to ensure its continued and much-needed place in the Air Force fleet.
Its “flying-tank-like” titanium hull, built-in redundancy, 30mm cannon, and expansive weapons arsenal have distinguished the A-10 throughout decades of warfare. Even so, some might wonder if there will eventually become a point at which the famous Warthog does in fact become obsolete.
Perhaps considered differently, are there other aircraft such as high-speed, fixed-wing 4th- and 5th-generation jets capable of performing the Warthog’s missions in a comparable or more effective way? That has been the contention of some Pentagon and Air Force decision-makers in recent years, some of whom claim the F-35 is perhaps better positioned to absorb close-air-support (CAS) missions.
A-10 Against F-35
This question generated so much interest and debate that the Pentagon and Joint Program Office for the F-35 conducted an extensive “fly-off” or series of tests with both the A-10 and F-35 in an effort to discern which aircraft might be optimal for the CAS mission.
Certainly, a high-speed F-35 would be maneuverable and less vulnerable to small arms fire, but just how much small arms fire could an F-35 withstand? That could be a concern, however, the range and fidelity of the F-35’s sensors may enable the aircraft to successfully perform the targeting and attack functions of CAS from much safer stand-off distances, enabling the aircraft to perform close air support combat missions from much higher altitudes.
The A-10, by contrast, can fly slowly and almost “hover” within line-of-sight attack range in support of maneuvering ground troops. The A-10 uses built-in redundancy or duplicate systems such as electronics and engines to ensure continued functionality in the event that some vital systems are destroyed by enemy fire. The A-10’s titanium hull is also regarded as quite unique as it enables the aircraft to sustain attack and maneuver operations if hit by enemy fire.
The Armed A-10
The A-10 flies with a full complement of weapons, including GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMS). Its arsenal includes GBU 38s, GBU 31s, GBU 54s, Mk 82s, Mk 84s, AGM-65s, AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles and rockets along with illumination flares, jammer pods, and other protective countermeasures.
The aircraft can carry 16,000 pounds of mixed ordnance—eight can fly under the wings and three under the fuselage. When it comes to targeting, navigation, and precision, enhancements in mission computing could prove crucial to upgrading combat performance for the A-10 by enabling new weapons systems for the platform
IS THE A-10 OUTMATCHED?
Despite these well-known and proven attributes, will the A-10 eventually need to disappear if it becomes entirely outmatched by enemy weapons and technologies? Perhaps not, as while the non-stealthy A-10 would clearly not be an aircraft of choice in a high-end, great-power air superiority fight, yet there are bound to be less contested warfare environments without advanced air defenses or 5th-generation enemy attack planes that would render the aircraft A-10 inoperative or at least much less relevant and impactful.
Yet another factor to bear in mind is that many decades-old airframes themselves can remain viable for many years beyond what may have been expected, something evidenced by the continued life of the B-52 and other legacy platforms such as the 1980-era F-16 and F-15.
With maintenance, some structural reinforcement, and service life extension plan adjustments, legacy aircraft can long outlive their anticipated service life. Given this reality and the continued likelihood of armed conflict in less-contested areas where the U.S. would have air superiority, it is possible the famous A-10 may actually have a few more decades of life.