by Joachim Jacob (all author rights reserved)
In late 2006, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) again asked for A-10s to support ongoing combat operations in Iraq. To beddown and maintaining the A-10s, Air Combat Command (ACC) activated the 438th Air Expeditionary Group (438th AEG) at Al Asad Airfield, Iraq, mainly operated by the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) and their deployed fixed-wing combat aircraft (F/A-18 Hornets/Super Hornets, AV-8B Harriers and EA-6B Prowlers). This marked the first time an A-10 unit deployed again in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since OIF's main combat phase ended in 2003.
Al Asad Airfield (Qadisiyah Airbase) (Satellite photo via Google Earth)
The 438th Air Expeditionary Group
The 438th AEG was activated for first time ever in late 2001 at Jacobabad Air Base, Pakistan, for Operation Enduring Freedom. Jacobabad AB or Shahbaz Airbase (IATA: JAG, ICAO: OPJA) is located at Jacobabad, in the Sindh province of Pakistan. It is a military base as well as civilian airport.
The 438th AEG was activated again at Al Asad Airfield on January 15, 2007, under the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad AB, Iraq, to provide close-air support to coalition forces in the region. Within hours of standing up as a fully operational A-10 unit, it was sending its aircraft into battle.
The group consisted of an A-10 fighter squadron, an A-10 aircraft maintenance squadron, a support squadron and an expeditionary group support staff. During each Air Expeditionary Force rotation, approximately 360 active-duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve personnel were assigned to the group.
The group's Airmen provided close air support, offensive firepower, overwatch, escort, aerial port ops and non-traditional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in support of OIF. The 438th AEG was deactivated in December 2007.
A-10s set to soar in Al Anbar province
Remaining rudiments of the former 438th AEG website
AEF 5/6 (Cycle 6) rotation (January – April 2007)
74th FS, 23rd FG (ACC), Pope AFB, North Carolina (FT)
(Aircraft verification is still underway by both official and private sources.)
Deployed as 74th EFS, commanded by Lt. Col. Russ "Oscar" Myers. Arrived on January 17.
Airmen from the 438th AEG retrieve one of the newly assigned A-10s on January 17, 2007, at Al Asad Airfield, Iraq. The unit's mission is to provide CAS for coalition forces in the Al-Anbar province. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sgt. Bryce Maxson) Hi-res
A-10s 79-0213 from the 74th FS (foreground) and 79-0139 from the 75th FS taxi out at Al Asad Airfield, Iraq, to provide CAS for coalition forces in the region. Each of both aircraft carries four GBU-12s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Ken Hall) Hi-res
A-10 79-0213 from the 74th FS takes off from Al Asad Airfield, Iraq, to provide CAS to ground troops on April 25, 2007. The loadout includes four GBU-12s and one Maverick. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cecilio M. Ricardo Jr.) Hi-res
A-10 80-0180 from the 74th FS prepares to take off from Al Asad Airfield, Iraq, to provide CAS to ground troops on April 25, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cecilio M. Ricardo Jr.) Hi-res
A-10 80-0180 from the 74th FS prepares to take off from Al Asad Airfield, Iraq, to provide close-air support to ground troops in Iraq on April 25, 2007. Loadout includes four GBU-12s and one Maverick. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cecilio M. Ricardo Jr.) Hi-res
A-10 crew chief Staff Sgt. Steve Young helps A-10 pilot 1st Lt. Chris "Harpoon" Laird prepare for a combat mission over Al Anbar Province in western Iraq. U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Ken Hall) Hi-res
Senior Airman Kevin Crawford performs an intake and exhaust inspection on an A-10 at Al Asad airfield on April 25, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cecilio M. Ricardo Jr.) Hi-res
Senior Airman Joseph Cordero, Staff Sgt. Andrew House and Staff Sgt. Barrett Read trouble shoot an electronic error on an A-10 at the flightline of Al Asad Airfield, Iraq, on April 25, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cecilio M. Ricardo Jr.) Hi-res
Maintenance crews on an A-10 end their 12-hour duty day April 25 at Al Asad Airfield, Iraq. In the background at right, an USMC EA-6B Prowler takes off. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Cecilio M. Ricardo Jr.) Hi-res
AEF 7/8 (Cycle 6) rotation (May – August 2007)
ANG "Rainbow Team"
103rd FS, 111th FW (Pennsylvania ANG), Willow Grove ARS, Pennsylvania (PA)
78-0641, 80-0152, 80-0230, 81-0949, 81-0955, 82-0659
190th FS, 124th Wg (Idaho ANG), Boise, Idaho (ID)
78-0611, 78-0618, 78-0624, 78-0629, 80-0218, 81-0955
AEF 9/10 (Cycle 6) rotation (September – December 2007)
104th FS, 175th Wg (Maryland ANG), Martin State AP Air Guard Station, Baltimore, Maryland (MD)
78-0637, 78-0683, 78-0705, 78-0717, 79-0087
172nd FS, 110th FW (Michigan ANG), Battle Creek, Michigan (BC)
80-0255, 80-0257, 81-0975, 81-0994
Deployed as 104th EFS, commanded by Lt. Col. Timothy Smith, 104th FS commander. First operational use of newly upgraded A-10C Thunderbolt IIs in combat. First combat drop of a GBU-38 JDAM by an A-10 on September 19, 2008, by Capt. Brian "Snap" Curland.
On November 3, 2007, USAF grounded all of its F-15s in response to the crash of a Missouri ANG F-15C in Boss, Missouri. USAF restricted flights of F-15Es and F-15 Eagles to "mission-critical" sorties only. Training, test and most combat missions were grounded. At Bagram AB the Strike Eagles sat on combat alert status but were not assigned to pre-planned or on-call missions.
The grounding forced CENTCOM to use other Air Force, Navy and French fighters to fill the gaps, though Strike Eagles did fly to support troops in battle in Afghanistan as an emergency measure while they were still under grounding orders
Aditionally, CENTCOM decided to relocate A-10s from Al Asad Airfield, Iraq, to Bagram AB. Originally, the A-10s were deployed for OIF to the 438th AEG, a subordinated unit of the 332nd AEW at Balad AB, Iraq. According to 332nd AEW Public Affairs, the 438th AEG relocated 80% of their 360 Airmen and all A-10s to Bagram AB "in <52 hrs of Warning Order" following worldwide grounding of the F-15 fleet.
The unit returned home to CONUS in mid-January 2008.
A 438th Air Expeditionary Group weapons loading team prepares to mount a Joint Direct Attack Munition to an A-10C Thunderbolt II using an MJ-1 “jammer” vehicle here. The Airmen made history in Iraq when their upgraded A-10s successfully employed JDAMs in combat. Because the weapon is guided to targets by pinpoint GPS coordinates, experts here say it is 100 percent more accurate than munitions previously employed on the A-10C Thunderbolt II, dramatically improving precision and reducing fratricide. The Airmen are deployed from the 175th Wing, Maryland Air National Guard, located in Baltimore, Md. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. D. Clare) Hi-res
Senior Airman Daniel Young marshals in an A-10 Thunderbolt II for munitions disarming after an Oct. 28 mission at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. The A-10C's are assigned to the 104th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, which is made up primarily of members from the 175th Maryland Air National Guard. Airman Young is a Maryland Air National Guard crew chief. The 104th EFS is the first unit to use the C-model A-10 in a combat zone. Its upgrades have made air power more efficient and have streamlined the close-air-support mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt Angelique Perez) Hi-res
AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- Senior Airman Michael Knecht, 438th Air Expeditionary Group weapons loader, helps load 30 mm rounds for an A-10C Thunderbolt II’s Gatling gun before a night-combat operation here. Airman Knecht is deployed from the 175th Wing, Maryland Air National Guard, Baltimore. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. D. Clare) Hi-res
AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- Senior Airman Anthony Murray, 438th Expeditionary Group crewchief, reviews aircraft records for an A-10C Thunderbolt II here. The unit’s newly upgraded A-10C Thunderbolt IIs are the first to fly in combat. Airman Murray is deployed from the 175th Wing, Maryland Air National Guard, Baltimore. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. D. Clare) Hi-res
AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- First Lt. Nick Barone, 438th Air Expeditionary Group pilot, secures his helmet before taking off on a combat mission in the new A-10C Thunderbolt II here. Lieutenant Barone is deployed from the 175th Wing, Maryland Air National Guard, Baltimore. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. D. Clare) Hi-res
AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- Tech. Sgt. Frank Williams, 438th Air Expeditionary Group weapons loader, checks munitions on an A-10C Thunderbolt II here, pulling arming pins so pilots can employ weapons. The 438th AEG is the first unit to fly newly upgraded A-10C Thunderbolt IIs in combat. The improved aircraft’s precision engagement abilities allow it to more accurately strike enemy targets, reducing dangers to coalition forces and non-combatants. Sergeant Williams is deployed from the 175th Wing, Maryland Air National Guard, Baltimore. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. D. Clare) Hi-res
Senior Airman Larry Lewis (left) and Tech. Sgt. David Rey remove a bomb from an A-10 Thunderbolt II. The weapons loaders are deployed to Southwest Asia from the Maryland Air National Guard's 175th Wing. The A-10, with excellent maneuverability and accurate weapons delivery, provide vital close-air support to coalition troops on the ground. (U.S. Air Force official photo by Staff Sgt Angelique Perez) Hi-res
Related USAF news article:
Air Guard pilots, maintainers make history in Iraq
By Tech. Sgt. D. Clare
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (11/07/2007) - Capt. Brian "Snap" Curland, a deployed member of the 175th Fighter Wing, Maryland Air National Guard, made history here when he dropped the first Joint Direct Attack Munition from the newly upgraded A-10C Thunderbolt II in combat Sept. 19.
The captain's strike, and the Air Guard's participation and support of precision engagement for the A-10, mark a historic new range of capabilities and accuracy the aircraft is bringing to the battlefield.
Curland was on his second sortie here when he came upon a former safe house that insurgents had established as a house-borne improvised explosive device. The building had been rigged to detonate when Soldiers swept through the town.
"When I put that out and dropped it, it was basically two buildings away from a mosque. And we obviously don't want to be doing any damage to significant religious centers and people who aren't in the conflict at all," Curland said.
Despite the proximity of residential buildings and the mosque, structures immediately adjacent to the target suffered little more than a dusting from the attack. No coalition forces or noncombatants were harmed.
"With this munition, we're able to pinpoint a building," said Curland with the 438th Air Expeditionary Group. "Collateral damage is about zero. When the bomb impacts, it buries itself into the building and then detonates so you're looking at basically just taking the building out from the inside out instead of the outside in like before."
Thanks to the A-comprehensive digital upgrade completed by the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and Air Force, newly modified A-10C's are bringing a new level of accuracy and versatility to close air support in Iraq.
This evolution to precision engagement allows A-10 pilots to strike targets with pinpoint accuracy, eliminating the threat to American forces and non-combatants on the ground.
A new 'SADL'
The upgrades to the aircraft have taken an analog system and brought it into a digital era, said Lt. Col. Eric Mann, 438th AEG pilot, and Operational Requirements division chief for the National Guard Bureau.
A new hands-on throttle and stick system improves the pilot's situational awareness, allowing the flyer to keep his or her "head on a swivel." The aircraft has fully integrated electronics and new avionics systems.
Through the Situational Awareness Data Link, or SADL, pilots are able to literally show their fellow pilots and ground forces what they see from their cockpit in real time.
"Essentially, it shortens the kill chain," said Mann, who is also a member of the Maryland ANG. By instantly sharing data and camera feeds, a process that took up to 30 minutes over the radio before now happens in seconds.
"I can transmit my image from the advanced targeting pod to the ground forces who can confirm it," he said. "I can transmit what I'm looking at to my wingman digitally without having to ‘talk his eyes’ onto the 'red roof building' when there's hundreds down there. He can actually see it the same time I am."
At the center of the A-10C's close air support mission is the elimination of improvised explosive devices. In some cases, they escort troops or convoys on missions and foot patrols, said Capt. Richard Hunt, a weapons and tactics officer deployed from the Maryland ANG.
The new capabilities of the aircraft reflect the complex nature of that mission. The A-10C has 11 weapons stations from wingtip to wingtip, in addition to its famous primary weapon, the seven-barrel, 30 mm Gatling gun.
"I have no idea what situation I'll find myself in when I arrive in a target area," said Hunt. "It's constantly changing on the ground, and the insurgency and the enemy is constantly changing. I need to have a huge variety of different weapons on the airplane so I can deal with a specific situation."
More than a decade ago, the Air Force began discussions on upgrading the A-10. With so many critical projects for the Department of Defense to address, it seemed the "legacy" aircraft's upgrades would stall. Before October 2006, it appeared that only a portion of the Air Force's inventory would be upgraded.
The Air National Guard, and its six A-10 fighter wings stepped up to aid the developmental program. They worked closely with the Air Combat Command and the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
In addition to funding from the National Guard, the Air Reserve Component brought the resources and experience the community needed to make the upgrade a reality. Its current incarnation is expected to be viable through 2028.
A Total Force reality
"We went out to Nellis and lived the Total Force dream," said Chief Master Sgt. Terry Allen, 438th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron superintendent and member of the Maryland ANG. The chief served as the enlisted leader for developmental testing.
"We interacted with the active duty, the Air Force Reserve and Guard personnel. We brought some experience to the table. We had a good handle on the legacy system on the aircraft and expanded on those in terms of integration and engagement."
As new modifications were implemented, maintainers worked directly with contractors to develop technical orders, data and drawings. As they went, they wrote the training programs associated with the changes. Aircrews and maintainers were integrated and brought up to speed simultaneously.
The upgrades started in earnest in November 2005. Air Guard specialists from six different states rotated in and out of Nevada to facilitate the process. The team finished in June 2007, and just weeks later, members from every component of the upgrade team found themselves in Iraq in combat in the new A-10Cs.
Weeks after that, the first JDAM launched from an A-10C struck its target dead center.
To date, the new system has performed in a "close to flawless" manner, according to Allen. The squadron has not dropped a single Central Command Air Forces tasking - a feat he credits to the successful implementation of upgrades and the hard work of maintainers before and throughout the deployment.
"We feel very, very proud," said Staff Sgt. Nick Draxler, 438th Air Expeditionary Group weapons loader deployed from the Maryland ANG. "It took thousands of man hours and lots of work to bring this aircraft to battle in a fully functional way. Now these aircraft performed as well as we have to get them here."