Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Is the Air Force's A-10 Warthog the Best Plane Money Can Buy?

By Rich Smith - Jun 28, 2014 at 11:45AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

The Warthog's fans and foes have different opinions about the cost effectiveness of this Cold War era tank-buster. Here, we'll lay out the facts for you.

When it comes to warplanes, which is better: shiny and new, or tried and true?


Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Once upon a time, the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II was inarguably the best close air support fighter in the U.S. Air Force's arsenal. But if you ask USAF brass today, they'll tell you it's time to retire the much-loved (but not for its looks) "Warthog." Its day is done, and there are other planes -- more modern, capable planes -- that can perform the A-10's mission just as well.

Lockheed Martin's (LMT 2.05%) F-35 stealth fighter, for example, sports a 25mm GAU-22/A Gatling gun for ground attack, plus internal weapons bays and external hard points permitting a payload of eight bombs and missiles. The plane it's replacing, Lockheed's venerable F-16 fighter, carries a similar payload, and has an M61 Vulcan Gatling gun with capacity for 511 20mm cannon rounds  (which, firing at 6,000 rounds per minute, the F-16 can empty in 5.1 seconds flat).

Boeing's (BA 5.64%) high-altitude B-1B bomber isn't much good at strafing, but it can carry a payload of 144 "smart" GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs in its bays, permitting precision strikes on ground targets. And rounding out the ensemble, Lockheed makes a gunship version of its C-130 Hercules transport. Used primarily on special ops missions, it's called variously the "Spectre," "Spooky," or "Ghostrider," and as recently argued on the pages of the Air Force Times, all three variants beat the smaller A-10 for "lethality." Each carries a 105mm howitzer, twin 40mm cannon, and a 25mm Gatling gun capable of unloading 2,500 rounds per minute -- a trifecta of terror for any opposing force.

From the sheer perspective of how much lead can we throw at the enemy, there's no denying -- there are alternatives to the A-10. The problem these days is more a question of cost. With the Air Force on the hook for upward of $1 trillion to buy and fly its new fleet of F-35s, money's getting tight. USAF worries that funding the A-10 will necessitate cutting elsewhere -- retiring hundreds of F-16s, forgoing F-35s, and perhaps killing the B-1B program entirely. So eventually, this turns into a numbers game. Which plane can do the best job of close air support at the cheapest cost?

To find that out, we've mined data from military aircraft website Deagel.com, and from the USAF itself, to try and come up with some answers. Take a click-tour of the following slideshow and see what you think -- and make sure check out our special free report at the end.


 
 

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

The Boeing Company Stock Quote
The Boeing Company
BA
$141.53 (5.64%) $7.56
Lockheed Martin Corporation Stock Quote
Lockheed Martin Corporation
LMT
$419.04 (2.05%) $8.42
Northrop Grumman Corporation Stock Quote
Northrop Grumman Corporation
NOC
$463.70 (1.64%) $7.46

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
336%
 
S&P 500 Returns
115%

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 06/26/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.