Life Expectancy of a Cold War A-10 Pilot


Categorie: Air, David Axe, History |
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<em>Photo: Air Force</em>

Photo: Air Force


In the 1980s the U.S. Air Force planned to deploy 68 A-10 warplanes to each of six Forward Operating Locations in West Germany in the event of war with the Soviets. The twin-engine A-10s, with their 30-millimeter guns and Maverick missiles, were NATO’s main tank-killing weapon.

According to the latest issue of Combat Aircraft, the flying branch predicted that, if the A-10s went into action, seven percent of the jets would be lost per 100 sorties. Since each pilot was expected to fly at most four missions per day, each base would in theory generate more than 250 sorties daily. At this pace, a seven-percent  loss rate per 100 flights equaled at least 10 A-10s shot down at each FOL every 24 hours — and that’s being conservative.

At that rate, in less than two weeks the entire A-10 force at the time — around 700 jets — would have been destroyed and the pilots killed, injured, captured or, at the very least, very shook up.


7 Responses to “Life Expectancy of a Cold War A-10 Pilot”

  1. No really surprising. I was in the heavy infantry at that time and we had realistically 48 hours to live, if we ever went toe to toe with the Soviets. So quite in line with life expectancies at that time in the case of conflict.

  2. jimmy says:

    The A-10 is good only for massacring enemies who are weak and quite defenceless against air assaults. Against adversaries possessing good all-round AA capability the A-10 is as effective in combat as the Bolton Paul Defiant plane of the Battle of Britain fame.

  3. Rhyolite says:

    Another way of looking at it is that 700 aircraft would manage about 10,000 sorties before being wiped out. If each sortie destroyed 2.5 tanks, in what would have been the worlds most target rich environment, those sorties would have destroyed about 25,000 tanks or about half of the Soviet tank force. I am not sure what the actual assumed kill rate per sortie was but for any reasonable value it would have put a huge dent in a Soviet invasion.

  4. Namen says:

    What a misleading article title. This has nothing to do with the life expectancy of a cold war pilot, it’s about the -estimated- life expectancy of pilots in a hypothetical WAR with the Soviet Union. A war that never happened. This view-count-whoring garbage writing is all too typical, now. (A 163 word “article”? Seriously?)

  5. Chris says:

    You can just skip the article by scrolling down sir. Whatever the length of this article is, it’s pretty interesting. If you don’t like it, just keep that nonsense for yourself please (instead of counting the amount of words in it…).
    Keep it up David.

  6. Mustang says:

    Hhmmm, my figures are different to those stated above. Each of the six bases of 68 A-10s flies 4 sorties on the first day – that’s 1632 sorties. Now what has to be taken into account is the attrition of the 408 A-10s which reduces the number of sorties they can perform. 7% casualties PER 100 SORTIES when 1632 sorties are flown on the first day is decimation. I think during the most intense periods during the Vietnam War B-52 loss rates were unsustainable at 2% (cant recall over what period). By my figures, Day 7 sees 154 sorties with 35 A-10s left at the end of the day. The A-10s perform 3324 sorties in the first week. If they kill 2.5 tanks per sortie, that’s 8310. The Soviets had at least 50,000 tanks from the T-80 to all the T-54/55 and T-62s in reserve (~35K T-54, 27.5K T-55 and 20K T-62 tanks were produced). Also keep in mind however that at 1000m the GAU-8 would not be able to penetrate the turret roof of a T-62, only the hull roof. It would therefore be ineffective against later Soviet tanks which would have made up the Category 1 and 2 Soviet divisions. Peace

  7. Ben says:

    Another difficulty with projecting initial estimated loss rates like this is that as the number of A-10 targets reduces, more threat systems will be engaging each A-10 !

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