Over 70 A-10A Thunderbolt lis — better known as ‘Warthogs’ — assembled at Alexandria International Airport, Louisiana, between April 29 and May 2 for Hawgsmoke 2004, the biennial A-10 bombing and tactical gunnery competition. Marco Ferrageau and Come Rodenburg report.
HE CITY of Alexandria, in the middle of the southern state of Louisiana, shares a special bond with America’s military, and with the A-10 Thunderbolt II. The first Warthogs arrived at the nearby England AFB in 1980, where they were flown by the 23rd Tactical Fighter Wing ‘Flying Tigers’ and whilst the base was closed on December 15, 1992, under the 1991 Base Realignment And Closure Act, it still remains a vital asset in close air support training held at Fort Polk, Louisiana. So it was fitting that Hawgsmoke 2004 should take place at the former base, now referred to as Alexandria International Airport. This year’s event was hosted by the 47th Fighter Squadron, part of the 917th Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit based at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, which operates the A-10A Thunderbolt and the B-52H bomber. During the last ‘Hawgsmoke’, at Fort Drum, New York, in 2002, the 47th FS won the section for Top A-10 Squadron in the US Air Force. Along with the award went the job of organizing ‘Hawgsmoke 2004’.
But what is this A-10 competition exactly? «‘Hawgsmoke’ is an intense flying competition and an opportunity to share in the camaraderie and legacy of the world’s premier Close Air Support Fighter,» said Lt Col Macaulay 47th FS director of operations.
‘Hawgsmoke 2004’ was designed to test four basic tenets of A-10 skill: Target Acquisition, Weapons Delivery, Flight Leadership, and Mutual Support/Teamwork. Sections of the competition placed a premium on speed and efficiency, needed for attacking fleeting targets and extreme range operations. The flying competition consisted of three distinct tactical problems; To find and destroy a target using Close Air Support procedures and simulating a CBU-87 strike; Conventional bombing and strafing; and to seek and destroy a high value asset target with an AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile. The main theatre for the competition was the Claiborne range, a complex, covering more than 7,800 acres (3,156 hectares), located in the Kisatchie National Forest, close to Alexandria. Claiborne provides users with four acoustically scored strafe pits, one daytime high angle strafe area and a variety of daytime or night tactical bomb targets. Hawgsmoke 2004 began on Thursday, April 29 when the competitors arrived, the first objective of the competition was to see which pilot arrived closest to their pre-set arrival time. The worst performance merits a less-than-sought-after trophy. «That’s one you don’t want,» said 917th spokeswoman Jessica D’Aurizio. «You’ve got to wait two years to get rid of it.»
Next morning, April 30, the weather was really bad. Low grey clouds, heavy with rain, hung over the Claiborne range. Minimum weather for the competition was a 1,500ft (460m) cloud ceiling and 3 miles (4.8km) visibility. Morning flights were cancelled with the cloud ceiling at only 600ft (183m) and visibility down to a mile (1.6km). The judges decided to postpone the competitions for a couple of hours, and around noon conditions improved. Four teams managed to finish their runs (47th FS Barksdale AFB, 103rd FS NAS Willow Grove JRB, Pennsylvania, 81st FS Spangdahlem AB, Germany, and 358th FS Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona). Two teams were only able to complete part of them (706th FS NAS New Orleans JRB, Louisiana, and 303rd FS Whiteman AFB, Missouri). Because of subsequent severe thunderstorms, which included heavy rain and lightning, the weather gave no space to allow the rest of the teams to compete.
Unfortunately on Saturday the weather was no better with more heavy rain and storms and so organisers had no alternative but to cancel the whole competition! Many units are offering to host the next Hawgsmoke in 2006 but a decision as to location has yet to be made.