Traditionally the A-10 Thunderbolt II is used for close air support.
However, during Green Flag-West 23-02, a live-fly joint exercise with the U.S. Navy, the 66th Weapons Squadron demonstrated the A-10s capabilities in austere environments for fifth-generation support roles, enabling the A-10 to be more effective in a peer adversary fight.
Initially formed in 1942 as the P-40 Warhawk Pursuit Squadron, the 66th Weapon Squadron is not a stranger to adapting and evolving. To this day, the 66th WPS continues to modernize and train in support of an ever-changing battle space.
“We found that with the unique capability of being able to work in austere environments and carry a high volume of weapons, we can provide effects for the greater fight to win in the Indo-Pacific theater,” said Maj. Taylor Raasch, 66th Weapons Squadron instructor and project officer.
To drive this concept into reality, the 66th WPS, in conjunction with Naval Special Warfare Group 1 and the 29th WPS, landed an A-10 Thunderbolt II in an austere location on San Clemente Island, Calif., to load a DATM-160 Miniature Air-Launched Decoy, the training variant of an ADM-160 MALD, onto the underside of the aircraft.
This capability has the potential to solve the Air Force’s need to use these weapons in high capacities and hard-to-access locations.
These adaptations help sharpen the Air Force’s competitive edge by modernizing older assets to fit into the modern-day war-fighting solution while simultaneously creating less of a footprint from humans, fuel and infrastructure.
“We’re providing low-cost, high-return options with the A-10 to combatant commanders to help solve a weapons capacity problem when operating in austere environments. We can operate for extended amounts of time with low overhead in terms of logistics,” said Raasch.
A 29th WPS C-130J Hercules also played a vital support role in delivering a DATM-160 MALD to San Clemente Island, which was then loaded onto an A-10. It was the first time this happened in an austere environment.
Naval Special Warfare has a long history with the A-10 community, and as the aircraft’s operating environment evolves, exercises like Green Flag allow participants to refine tactics, techniques and procedures in a joint environment.
“Without the Navy, specifically Naval Special Warfare, we would not be able to land at San Clemente Island in this scenario. Primarily because there would be no airfield security in an environment where hostile ground attacks were expected,” said Maj. Taylor Swope, 29th WPS Instructor.
Personnel from NSW Group 1 participated as joint terminal attack controllers operating from a forward position to direct the action of combat aircraft engaged in close-air support and other offensive air operations. NSW operators also acted as an enemy opposition force during the training. Two operators, one from the JTAC team and one from the opposition force, also observed the loading and inspection of the DATM-160.
“We carry the equivalent of a B-52 load of MALDs and more than an F-16, so we can either bump up the number of MALDs or maintain that number while allowing other platforms to carry other standoff weapons.
“Through the help of some technology, sheer grit, and the fighter pilot mentality, we’re adapting to support the evolving mission and I think that’s really important,” said Raasch, “We want to win.”