For the first time in almost 33 years of operational service, the A-10 Thunderbolt II has an integrated sustainment/modernization program worthy of its impressive record as a close-air-support/ground attack aircraft for the USAF. The $1.6 billion Thunderbolt Lifecycle Program Support (TLPS) Prime Integration contract puts ongoing A-10 modernization and sustainment efforts on a competitive footing and ties together piecemeal upgrades that Hogs have been receiving for most of the last decade.
Awarded by the A-10 System Program Office in June 2009 to three major prime contractors (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman), TLPS replaces the contract Lockheed Martin had as the single prime integrator for upgrades and refurbishment. Under the previous arrangement, most supplies and services for the A-10 were obtained via stand-alone acquisitions, including major upgrade programs such as the Precision Engagement (PE) Program and the Wing Replacement Program (WRP).
“TLPS is a means to an end,” says Jim Marx, A-10 Logistics Management Lead for the 538th Aircraft Sustainment Group, Hill AFB. “As our Prime Integration contract, TLPS provides the means to compete acquisition and integration of supplies and services supporting current and future modernization and sustainment efforts on the A-10. Under TLPS, individual modernization and sustainment efforts are competed as task/delivery orders amongst the three prime contractors to deliver a ‘best value’ solution to warfighter needs.”
Warfighter needs with respect to the A-10 have already been significantly addressed with the aforementioned PE Program. Begun in 2006, PE represents the largest gain in combat capability in the history of the Hog, lending modified examples the designation A-10C. Upgrades range from the inclusion of precision munitions employment capability to enhanced air-to-air and air-to-ground situational awareness (SA). Modified aircraft can carry both LITENING II and Sniper laser targeting pods, and boast Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser capabilities. SA is improved with a redesigned main instrument panel with two five-by-five-inch multifunction color displays, a new armament heads up display control panel and a hands-on stick and throttle system with a modified F-15E throttle grip, and a modified F-16 control stick grip.
The enhancements have transformed the A-10 into an “electric jet’ Marx adds, allowing it to take advantage of further operational flight program software upgrades to enhance capabilities, reliability and maintainability. Sustainment work persists under TLPS as the A-10 completes a Service Life Extension Program and turns to a Structural Inspection Program.
“We’ve nearly completed the Service Life Extension Program overhaul on the fleet and are now transitioning our focus to our new Scheduled Structural Inspection program which will ensure we can safely and effectively fly the A-10 to 16,000 flying hours or beyond 2028,” Marx continues.
“Building on these programs, we are also partnered with Boeing to deliver 233 new A-10 wings (WRP) which can fly for 10,000 hours without major inspection and are projected to save $1.3 billion in life cycle costs. The first new A-10 wing is slated for delivery in late Fiscal Year 2010 with additional deliveries and installations through 2016.”
The continuing upgrades are evidence of the Hog’s value in the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Uniquely able to combine precision firepower with maneuverability and meaningful loiter capability, the venerable straight-wing attack jet excels in these demanding environments. Reports indicate that it is the close-air-support weapon of choice among American and allied troops.
TLPS is aimed at efficiently continuing the process of refining the Warthog. Two basic elements guide the program. Along with its emphasis on competitive, integrated acquisition solutions, the program seeks to ensure that each contractor participates fully in the requirements definition process for lifecycle improvements through an apparatus known as an Integration Support Task Order (ISTO). The ISTO specifies that each prime contractor will provide a small cadre of their own personnel to manage and integrate day-to-day activities within their respective company, between their company and the other primes, and to coordinate with the A-10 System Program Office as Prime Integrator.
Together, the contractors work with Air Combat Command, the National Guard Bureau, the Air Force Reserve and the A-10 System Program Office to identify future requirements for the A-10. According to Marx, new capabilities are defined and awarded with TLPS on a regular basis.
“Current programs under TLPS include assessments for future Embedded GPS/INS modernization, fuel system improvements and Aircraft Structural Integrity Program modernization, amongst others,” Marx explains. “Ongoing and future improvements will enhance the warfighting capabilities to increase situational awareness to the pilot, allow greater ease of digital network connectivity, and enhance weapons employment capabilities. These improvements, along with better data and fault code reporting and integrated support equipment will make the A-10 not only easier to operate, but easier to maintain.”
Those improvements and continuing efforts by A-10 System Program Office under TLPS to incorporate a comprehensive, depot-level fuselage inspection and repair program should give the A-10 the longevity Air Force planners seek while next generation platforms like F-35A mature.
“In late 2009, the A-10 System Program Office completed a full-scale fuselage/empennage fatigue test, the results of which are currently being analyzed for incorporation into our existing Scheduled Structural Inspection program,” says Jim Marx. “With the inclusion of these inspections and repairs, we are confident we can safely and effectively fly the A-10 to 16,000 hours or beyond 2028.”