In the dusty fields of Afghanistan, there is no greater or more terrifying sound than the roar of a GAU-8 30mm cannon firing from the nose of an A-10 Thunderbolt II. The “Warthog,” as it is affectionately nicknamed by the troops, is the US Air Force’s premier close air support (CAS) platform. Originally developed to destroy Warsaw Pact tanks during the Cold War, the A-10 has provided ground troops with CAS from Operation Desert Storm to the current global war on terror. Developed in 1972, the A-10 is a predecessor to the aircraft that fought alongside ground troops in Vietnam, Korea, and World War II. It traces its lineage to the P-47 Thunderbolt, the powerful fighter-bomber of World War II.
When the United States entered World War II, its close air support doctrine had been overlooked for the more favorable strategic bomber doctrine. The need for CAS on the front line was immediately noticed, when American troops entered combat in North Africa in 1942. The Germans had developed the Ju 87 Stuka in 1935, and integrated it into the combined arms doctrine fighting against the Allies in France and the Low Countries and the Soviets on the Eastern Front. Like the Americans, the British entered World War II unprepared to provide CAS for its troops. During the Battle of France, CAS was desperately needed to stem the Nazi onslaught. With the campaign in North Africa, the British began to use the CAS doctrine to overwhelm German and Italian defenses, and drive the Axis out of North Africa.
During the Italian Campaign, the Allies were able to achieve air superiority and shift focus towards fighter-bomber aircraft. British and American fighter-bombers, working closely with ground troops, helped the Allies to continue their drive against Axis positions and advance into Northern Italy. When the Allies landed in Normandy, again with air superiority, CAS aircraft pounded German defenses, aiding in the drive across France. During the Korean War, older World War II aircraft provided CAS for UN and American ground troops fighting North Korean and Chinese forces. It Vietnam, helicopters largely provided CAS for troops in the form of gunships. Aiding helicopter gunships were jet aircraft like the A-7 Corsair II and the propeller-driven A-1 Skyraider.
With the further development of jet aircraft, the United States continued to support fighter-bomber platforms. While the A-10 is the only aircraft solely dedicated to CAS doctrine, the F-16, AV-8B Harrier II, F-15E Strike Eagle, and the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet variants can provide CAS for ground troops when the need arises.