Part 2: Episode 3: The F/A-18Episode 3: The F/A-18
I cut out huge chunks of this mission and the commentary is text only because it is incredibly boring and has no real relevance to the story of the game.
The Weapons of Battlefield 3
The A-10 Thunderbolt
Aside from maybe the AC-130 or the B-52 few non-fighter US military planes have become so well known outside of aviation circles as the A-10 Thunderbolt (or Warthog). Inside aviation circles the people who have worked on the A-10 are actually pretty insufferable. I worked with a woman who spent a couple years as engine support for the Air Force on the Warthog and nearly every conversation we had contained the phrase When I worked on the A-10 followed by You know they built the plane around the gun, right? As annoying as the constant reminders were, it was a pretty interesting point, if not slightly wrong (see below). The GAU-8 Avenger is a General Electric designed, General Dynamics produced 30mm Gatling gun designed for the Thunderbolt that extends from just under the nose of the plane to back behind the cockpit.
The Warthog came about when the Air Force found a need to provide close air support to men in the field against tanks and other armored vehicles. At the time bombers were more focused on saturation than close support and attack jets were using rockets and bombs, along with smaller cannons meant for soft targets but ineffective against armor. In fighters with ground strike capability were often too fast to line up shots and had a record of being felled by small arms fire and surface to air volleys.
With this in mind the Air Force began soliciting information on a low speed, high durability attack plane that could provide close support in 1967. By 1970 more details had been added to the profile, including the usage of a 30mm cannon that also had to be created special for the proposed attack plane. By 1972 the competition was down to Northrops YA-9A (The Y designation given to prototype craft) and the Fairchild Republic YA-10A. The two planes eventually had a fly-off that led the Air Force to select the Fairchild design, a few months later the GAU-8 was selected as the main armament for the newly dubbed A-10, meaning that the plane was finalized before the gun, so shut up about it Christine.
The A-10 began production in 1976 and eight years and 715 planes later the production lines closed and Fairchild, the company who made the planes would go through a series of mergers and purchases for the next few decades, producing only one other moderately successful plane in the mid 90s before being absorbed by an Israeli defense firm in the 2000s.
The A-10 was designed to endure a great deal of punishment, and as such includes double and triple redundancies in a number of vital systems and heavy armor, including a Ti bathtub for the cockpit meant to deflect shot from anti air and small arms that would normally hit the pilot. The Warthog is capable of making landings with the wheels still up and features a set of self-sealing fuel tanks, making fires and leaks unlikely even when the tanks are hit. The engines, mounted high and at the back of the plane, are also heavily armored and able to take damage from flak cannons and keep going. Their odd positioning allows for the A-10 to be serviced on the runway with engines running and helps avoid the dangers of FOB (foreign object debris) from runways with poor conditions. The engines exhaust right over the tail of the plane, allowing for a degree of shielding from ground based heat seeking units.
Despite the modern public popularity of the A-10 it was initially unpopular with pilots. Most fighter pilots relished speed and the sleek appearance of post-war fighter jets. The A-10 looks like something from a different era with the long, straight wings, huge engine pods and bulbous shapes. The Air Force would result to tricks in recruiting pilots for another project years later, giving the Nighthawk striker/bomber the designation F-117. Pilots are often assigned to planes for a very long time, possibly an entire career and this meant that many of the original pilots never got to fly the A-10 in actual combat runs. The Warthog was restricted to training and dry runs from its introduction in 1976 until the Gulf War in 1991. By that time the Air Force was considering replacing the plane with a version of the F-16 more suited to close support.
The Gulf War saved the A-10 program in most respects. A-10s saw heavy use, destroying nearly 3000 tanks and other military vehicles, 1200 artillery units and two helicopters while losing a total of seven planes over 8100 flights. The A-10 would again fly in Bosnia in 1994 and Kosovo in 1999. The A-10 has also been used in operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Today there are about 350 active A-10 Thunderbolts, the planes kept alive through constant upgrades and the need for close attack craft. The A-10 has a proposed retirement date of 2028, but may last till 2040 if proposed upgrades are able to keep the plane flightworthy if all targets can be met. Raytheon has also proposed an unmanned version of the craft to DARPA and is working on a prototype now.
In Battlefield 3 the A-10 appears primarily in the Rush game type on maps like Kargh Island and Caspian Border that would normally feature a F/A-18. The A-10 and the Russian Frogfoot are meant to be close support planes and feature no afterburners and slow overall speeds and have the same health profile and damage capabilities. The problem with this is that about every other pilot wants this game to be Ace Combat and will try to take you down if you hop in the opposing vehicle. Due to the slow speed of both planes a mediocre pilot can take down almost anyone as long as they get behind them. If they have air to air missiles a kill is pretty much a guarantee. The A-10 is much more effective with rocket pods accompanying the cannon being used to take out tanks, jeeps and other armor as well as forcing enemies out of dug in positions. The A-10 is also fairly effective against orbiting helicopters, and because helicopters are a major threat to ground forces no one will complain if the A-10 pulls away to take out a helo. The A-10 is actually pretty fun to fly without someone trying to role-play Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow against you. Because of the nature of the A-10 a lot of people either crash into the geography or get shot out of the sky by a smart tank or rocket user.
If you want to be effective with the A-10 you need to attack at steep angles so your fire is more concentrated on a single point or target, the helicopters and fighter jets are better for strafing long strips of territory. A steeper angle of attack also limits a tanks ability to target you and minimizes your profile against some rocket savant in your crosshairs. By its nature the A-10 is going to hear a lot of lock on tones, as it is too slow to really escape the range of a Stinger when flying away from an attack run. Like with all jets in the game Flares are going to be an important perk. I generally also use Rocket Pods and maintenance to allow for a quick fix if a rocket does make it past the flares. Worth noting is the fact that the Su-25 Frogfoot and A-10 have the same damage profile, doing 50 points per shot from the cannon. The fighters do 45, even the F-35, a plane that doesnt currently feature a cannon in real life.