Most Valuable Reader Peter sent in another great question:
The article Changing Planes in DTI mentions the ground support role of the F-18 Hornet, yet when I hear ground support, I think A-10. I have been curious for awhile as to why the Air Force fly the A-10 and not the Army, since its only role is to support the Army on the ground? A ground support aircraft the Army does fly is the Apache. Here's a critique of the Apache I found. Can the A-10 and Apache be compared as to how effective they are ,as ground support aircraft? Of the two aircraft ,which is the cheapest aircraft to purchase, to maintain and operate?
Here's Joris' take:
Comparing the relative costs and merits of the A-10 fixed-wing close air support aircraft with those of the Apache attack helicopter may be interesting to some, but I think such an exercise rather misses the point. The point being that both are highly complementary assets in the ongoing counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The A-10 (like other fixed-wing close air support platforms used in those theaters -- typically AC-130, F-16, F/A-18, Harrier GR.9) has the advantage of being able to transit quickly to reach remote locations where troops are in contact. It can loiter overhead for quite some time and look down vertically into walled-off compounds or narrow alleyways, using a high-performance targeting pod. It can use its powerful and loud 30-mm gun as a tool of intimidation to de-escalate a threatening situation (by firing at an empty piece of land close to potential adversaries -- regrettably, the A-10 doesn't have afterburning jet engines to achieve a similar effect). If things turn ugly, the A-10 can apply a measured amount of violence by strafing or dropping precision-guided munitions.
The Apache, on the other hand, requires more time to travel a distance and should therefore either be based close to where ground patrols operate; or at least be able to make use of a forward arming and refuelling post somewhere in the vicinity. While it can choose from a similar array of weapons as that used by the A-10, the Apache's main advantage lies in its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. These are provided by its capable electro-optical and thermal imaging cameras that allow the Apache to build up a superior situational awareness for its own crew and for the ground forces in the area. In daylight but also (sometimes even better) at night. British Apaches in Afghanistan even carry the Longbow radar for extra ISR potential. The mere presence of an Apache usually has a de-escalating effect on the opposing militant forces as most people are well aware of its sensing and firepower capabilities.
Together, A-10s (with other close air support jets) and Apaches are a great team that, especially in the Afghanistan theater of operations, are extremely useful to help the limited numbers of NATO ground troops in their efforts to try to bring stability and security in that troubled nation.
--Joris Janssen Lok