The close air support, low-flying, high-survivability A-10 Thunderbolt
was deployed last year in 2014 for the air campaign against ISIS – Operation Inherent Resolve. The 30-millimeter Gatling cannon-equipped A-10s are primarily used in a ground attack role, specializing in tank and armory piercing operations. In March of 2015, the United States declared that the US Air Force will not be utilizing depleted uranium ammunition, formally denoted PGU-14 armor piercing incendiary ammunition.
In a statement to the press, the USAF explained that PGU-14 is unnecessary against the Islamic State, as the jihadist group lacks a large tank or armored vehicle capability. ISIS mainly uses pickup trucks or technicals for transportation, which can be sufficiently taken out with non-DU ammunition.
PGU-14 is controversial with humanitarian groups as a result of its potential radioactive toxicity on citizens. As a result of the two Persian Gulf wars, hundreds of thousands of pounds of uranium were disseminated on Iraqi soil. Although DU ammunition only radiates alpha particles which does not penetrate clothing and human skin, the heavy metal can release toxic carcinogens on animals, plants, and humans. Despite these concerns, the US has not ruled out the possibility of using PGU-14 should the need for heavy armor-piercing weaponry arise.
The A-10s, also dubbed Warthogs, were first flown in 1972 with production ceasing in 1984. Originally manufactured by Fairchild, maintenance and upgrade programs for the aircraft was taken up by Northrop Grumman
in 1987. The Warthogs field a General Dynamics GAU-8 Avenger cannon on its nose, earning them a reputation as Tankbusters. These aircraft also have extraordinary low-level capability as a result of its straight wing maneuverability and are able to sustain large amounts of enemy fire with its honeycomb structure and heavy armor (titanium skin up to 3.8 centimeters thick), making them indispensable in Combat Search and Rescue operations in which hostile territory must be entered to retrieve downed allies and Strike Coordinated Armed Reconnaissance.
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