The Air Force’s A-10 Warthog squadrons attend a secret training exercise in rural Florida to prepare for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The exercise involves jets, pilots and maintainers deploying to an “austere” airfield and practicing round-the-clock bombing and strafing in difficult conditions. Predeployment training in this vein is nothing new: many units do it annually; but rarely is it shrouded in such secrecy.
Warthogs have been very busy over Iraq and Afghanistan and are only getting busier as U.S. forces “surge” in Iraq and as the Taliban in Afghanistan kicks off its annual springtime offensives. In January A-10s deployed to Iraq’s western province of Al Anbar for the first time to fill in for Marine Corps Hornet squadrons that are, frankly, exhausted after years of nonstop combat. Back stateside, the Air National Guard – which operates half of the Air Force’s Warthogs – is spearheading the introduction of the first new A-10 model since the type’s debut in the late 1970s: the A-10C, with better sensors, communications and weapons. Much more on that in an upcoming issue of DTI.
The 175th Wing, part of the Maryland Air Guard based in Baltimore, is the first unit to get the upgrade and will take the new jets to Afghanistan later this year – but only after their stint in Florida. The Wing declined to specify where in Florida the training takes place, but there are only so many candidates, and I checked them all out using Google Earth. Patrick in the east and MacDill near Tampa are too urban. Homestead in the south appears mostly inactive except for a possible F-15 detachment.
Tyndall Air Force Base on the panhandle, where the service trains its F-15 and F-22 pilots, features a huge range and a number of outlying airfields (pictured above), but when I checked there were no A-10s in sight, just QF-4 drones and some “adversary” F-16s in addition to the resident Eagles and Raptors. The absence of A-10s doesn’t mean Tyndall doesn’t host the periodic Warthog training, of course. They just might not have been there the last time Google Earth updated its imagery.
But there is an A-10 visible at nearby Eglin (see left), where the Air Force conducts weapons tests. That Warthog is probably there for testing associated with the A-10C program, but Eglin does boast a number of airstrips that might work as Afghanistan stand-ins for pre-deployment training.
There's also Camp Blanding. The resident unit is a Red Horse squadron -- civil engineers -- but there's a likely looking airfield, too.
My bet is on Tyndall, but that’s just conjecture until we’ve got sightings. Have any of our Florida readers spotted any A-10s buzzing around?
--David Axe, cross-posted at War Is Boring