Ukraine's 100 A-10 Warthog request to defend against Russia got denied. Here's why

The aging jets could have been vulnerable to Russian attacks.
Ameya Paleja
The A-10 Thunderbolt II in action
The A-10 Thunderbolt II in action

U.S. Department of Defense 

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov requested the U.S. for 100 of its A-10 Warthog ground attack jets just weeks after the Russian invasion in February this year, The Washington Post reported. The U.S. outright rejected this request to avoid escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington.

The conflict in Ukraine which has been going on for ten months has seen the Ukrainian defense supported by the U.S. and its NATO allies. Military aid packages approved by the U.S. government have ammunition ranging from drones to the most advanced air defense system in its arsenal. However, the U.S. has refrained from providing fighter jets in combat.

The report, however, suggests that Ukraine did its homework before putting in the request. Ukrainian Defense minister Aleksii Reznikov said he used publicly available information and estimated that 100 aircraft were available with the U.S. Air Force. He claimed that aircraft could be redirected to the Ukrainian war effort, helping it thwart the Russian aggression heading toward its capital city of Kyiv with a 40-mile (64 km) column of tanks and heavily armored vehicles.

How the A-10 Warthogs could help

Built by Fairchild Republic Company, now a part of Northrop Grumman, the A-10 Thunderbolt II was the first aircraft designed for close air support of ground forces. The aircraft offers excellent maneuverability at low speeds and altitudes, can loiter near battle areas for extended periods of time, and swing into action when needed.

The aircraft has a 30mm GAU-8/A Gatling gun that can fire 3,900 rounds a minute and can be equipped with a wide range of air-to-surface weapons, including precision-guided and unguided munitions.

Nicknamed the Warthog, the A-10 Thunderbolt IIs have Night Vision Imaging Systems (NVIS), helmet-mounted cueing systems, and a large bubble canopy cockpit that provides pilots with broad vision. The ability to survive hits from projectiles, self-healing fuel cells, and a manual systems backup when hydraulic flight control is lost means that the aircraft has greater survivability than any other aircraft deployed before.

U.S. rejects request outright

The single-pilot aircraft can carry up to 16,000 pounds (7,200 kg) of mixed ordnance, consisting of bombs, missiles, and rockets under its wing and fuselage pylons. However, the U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin outright rejected the Ukrainian request since, in the absence of necessary support, the A-10s would have become squeaky targets for Russian air defense systems, Reznikov told WaPo.

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The U.S. has refrained from sending aircraft as aid to Ukraine as it believes that they can be used to conduct deep strikes within Russia, and doing so would escalate tensions with Moscow. Instead, the U.S. and its allies have looked at possibilities of sending Soviet-designed combat jets to Ukraine, but while this move has not come to fruition, there has been an attempt to supply spares for the combat jets that Ukraine already has.

The U.S. has also led the effort in arming Ukraine's Soviet-origin jets with AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) with plans to add more such attack options in the future.

First deployed in 1976, the A-10 Warthogs are an aging fleet that the U.S. is considering retiring nearly 300 aircraft soon. In such a scenario, it is unlikely that the aircraft would be sent to an ally for combat efforts.