Northrop Grumman awarded A-10 support contract
Northrop Grumman was recently awarded two work orders worth nearly USD24 million to help sustain the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) fleet of Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II close air support (CAS) aircraft.
The contracts were awarded in mid-November as part of the A-10 Thunderbolt Life Cycle Program Support (TLPS) programme. Under TLPS, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman, can compete for A-10 work orders, the first three of which were awarded to Lockheed Martin in late 2009.
Under the terms of the first, Northrop Grumman and its teammates will support the A-10 Aircraft Structural Integrity Program (ASIP) Modernisation Program on tasks required to keep the aircraft viable through to 2028 and beyond. This contract spans four years.
The second work order covers the ASIP Legacy V effort, and will see the company undertake damage tolerance analysis, materials testing, probabilistic and risk analysis, and stress and thermal analysis. This contract lasts for two years.
News that Northrop Grumman has been awarded a contract to maintain the A-10 out to beyond 2028 will be welcomed by many, US lawmakers among them, who feared that the USAF was looking to scrap the its fleet of approximately 355 A-10A/C aircraft.
In the current fiscal climate, the USAF had indicated that it wanted to divest itself of the single-purpose A-10 entirely, and to pass its CAS role onto the other multirole platforms, such as the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
While the F-35A will undoubtedly prove to be a highly capable air-to-ground attack aircraft, it lacks the payload (both in terms of variety and number of weapons carried), time on station, low-level accuracy, and even the psychological effect of the highly lethal and feared A-10. In particular, it will lack the A-10’s iconic GAU-8 Avenger 30 mm Gatling-gun, and while the F-35A will have an internal 25 mm Gatling-gun, it will only carry 250 rounds compared to the 1,700 carried by the A-10.
In light of this, US senators have been pressing the USAF to reconsider its position regarding the early retirement of the A-10. However, what the Northrop Grumman TLPS contract and the ongoing Boeing-led wing replacement programme show is that despite soundings to the contrary coming from elements within the USAF hierarchy, the service as a whole does see a continued role for the A-10 post-Afghanistan.
The A-10 was originally designed for the battlefields of Europe, where its purpose was to destroy Soviet armour. The USAF’s original plans to scrap the aircraft at the end of the Cold War have repeatedly been thwarted by unforeseen conflicts (the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq), where the A-10 has consistently proven itself to be the platform of choice for those engaged in the fighting.