September 27, 2014: Strategy Page
The U.S. Air Force is providing the NSF (National Science Foundation) with a working A-10 ground attack aircraft for conversion to a storm (tornado or hurricane) chaser. The A-10 will have all its weapons and military electronics removed. The NSF is providing $13 million to install electronics (in place of the fire control system) that will enable the A-10 to monitor weather conditions in the immediate vicinity more accurately and also launch small sensors into a storm. The aircraft will be ready later in 2014, in time for late season hurricanes.
The basic A-10 is a 1960s design that has been upgraded a lot since it first appeared in the 1970s. The A-10 is a 23 ton, twin engine, single seat aircraft whose primary weapon is a multi-barrel 30mm cannon originally designed to fire armored piercing shells at Russian tanks. In addition, the A-10 can carry seven tons of bombs and missiles. Cruising speed is 560 kilometers an hour and the A-10 can slow down to about 230 kilometers an hour. In Afghanistan two drop tanks are usually carried, to give the aircraft more fuel and maximum time over the battlefield. The storm chaser version will still have the hard points on the wings so it can carry more wing tanks in addition to the small bomb-like sensor devices (that broadcast what they detect) that are dropped into storms. Removing the 30mm cannon leaves space for cameras, special radars and whatever.
The A-10 was built to withstand a lot of ground fire and be a stable gun platform when flying close to the ground (where the weather can be rather bumpier for aircraft.) Storms tend to generate high winds and hail and close to the ground the winds can send a lot of small objects moving around at high speed. The A-10 can handle this sort of thing and carry enough fuel to stay in the air for six hours or more.