US Air Force deployed modern warplanes to a civilian American highway for the first time as the military tests its readiness for a potential new Cold War.
Four A-10C Thunderbolt II Tankbusters, along with a pair of operations transport planes were deployed to a highway in Michigan throughout the morning as part of a drill intended to prepare for a conflict with China or Russia.
The drill was part of the larger Northern Strike Exercise, which the Department of Defense says is its largest annual reserves drill.
This year it comprised around 5,100 participants from across the military branches, as well as allied nations. It runs from July 31 to August 14.
‘This is believed to be the first time in history that modern Air Force aircraft have intentionally landed on a civilian roadway on U.S. soil,’ Air Force Col. James Rossi, the Combat Readiness Training Center commander for the highway operation. ‘Our efforts are focused on our ability to train the warfighter in any environment across the continuum so our nation can compete, deter, and win today and tomorrow.’
Four A-10C Thunderbolt II attack jets landed on a highway in Michigan Thursday morning as part of an training exercise intended to test Air Force capabilities to operate in rugged conditions
It was the first time modern military aircraft had landed on a US civilian highway, and was done in collaboration with the Michigan State DOT
The drills were conducted on Michigan’s M-32 highway in collaboration with the Michigan Department of Transportation, which shared footage of the jets landing and taxiing on the highway.
The department did not immediately return a request for comment on whether the highways needed to be modified to accommodate the aircraft, but electricity for neighboring houses was shut off for for the morning.
Overseen by the Michigan Air National Guard, the highway operation involved participation from a number of Air Force and DoD entities.
Two of the A-10s flew from Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Wing, stationed out of the Air National Guard Base in Selfridge, and the other two were from the active-duty 335th Wing, based out of the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, The Drive reported.
The pair of C-146A Wolfhound operations transport planes, meanwhile, came from the Air Force Special Operations Command at Duke Field in Florida.
Video of the jets showed them touching down on Michigan’s M-32 highway in Alpena, which was nearby the operations base for the drill
The attack jets are seen taxiing along the highway. The drill was part of a larger Northern Strike Exercise, which is the Department of Defense says is its largest annual practice exercise
The highway drill brought in Air Force assets from bases in Florida and Arizona as well as from the Air National Guard in Michigan
The A-10s were built to be rugged aircraft, with short take off and landing capabilities ideal for use in conditions such as a highway or unfinished airfield
The Davis-Monthan base also provided search and rescue operations support for the drill.
The highway drill was overseen by the nearby Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, which is supporting the larger Northern Strike exercise.
The overall exercise is being run out of the National All-Domain Warfighting Center, also in Michigan, which is conducting the exercise that not only concerns air capabilities but also land, sea, space and cyber warfare.
The Drive also reported that Michigan’s Air National Guard has had experience landing aircraft in similar conditions, with A-10s from its 127th Wing operating off of highways in Estonia as part of a previous exercise in 2018.
In addition to the A-10s, to C-146A Wolfhound transport planes took part in the drill. They are military planes converted from a civilian model
Much of the C-146’s operations have been shrouded in secrecy, but the Air Force says they are intended to transport small teams and cargo to support command operations in warzones
The highway drills are part of the Air Force’s new Agile Combat Employment (ACE) doctrine, which is aimed at ensuring combat capabilities can be sustained even when facilities such as airbases are destroyed, with the understanding that such sites are likely to be among the first targeted if war breaks out.
Upon completion of the highway drills, the Air Force said the active-duty component of the operations, such as from the 335th wing, was intended to be part of its effort to further refine its ACE capabilities, ‘which improve its airmen’s ability to operate from austere locations with limited infrastructure and personnel.’
‘This proof of concept proves that we can land on any highway and continue to operate,’ said Capt. John Renner, a 354th Fighter Squadron pilot who landed one of the A-10s in the operation. ‘The A-10 allows us to land a lot more places to get fuel, weapons, and other armament so we can operate anywhere, anytime. This will allow us to get away from using built-up bases that our adversaries can target by moving much more rapidly.’
The jet’s airframe is built around the GAU-8A Gatling autocannon, which fires armor-piercing rounds at a rate of 3,900 rounds per minute
In addition to its cannon, the A-10 can carry a wide variety of air-to-ground munitions in support of its close air support role
The Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II
Function: Close Air Support
Engine: Twin TF34-GE-100 turbofans
Top Speed: 420 MPH
Armament: 30mm GAU-8/A Gatling autocannon, 500lb Mk-82 bombs, 2,000lb Mk-84 bombs, incendiary cluster bombs, mine dispensing munitions, AGM-65 Maverick missiles, unguided and laser-guided 2.75-inch rockets, ECM jammers, AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles
Unit Cost: $9.8million
Active inventory: 281
Source: US Air Force
‘This is a small step toward increasing our confidence in operating from austere locations,’ said Lt. Col. Gary Glojek, commander of the 354th Fighter Squadron. ‘We are increasing the number of areas we can operate from to generate and deliver attack airpower by operating from dirt and pavement runways. Accelerating change is all about seizing every opportunity to move forward to increase your readiness.’
‘We are ready to get within striking range, and we are ready to go generate and deliver attack airpower from thousands of locations across the world,’ he added. ‘We are going to continue to get lighter, faster, more maneuverable, and more flexible as we do that.’
Introduced in 1977, the A-10 was conceived near the height of the Cold War as a dedicated ground-attack aircraft.
Its chief role is to support troops on the ground in close air support, with a special capability to destroy tanks and other armored vehicles.
Heavily armored for an aircraft, its airframe is built around the GAU-8 Gatling autocannon, which is about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, and fires depleted uranium armor-piercing shells at a rate of 3,900 rounds per minute.
It was built to be rugged, powered by two rear-slung, TF34-GE-100 turbofan engines, the craft has short take-off and landing capabilities, making it ideal for the highway operations it was involved in Wednesday.
The modernized A-10C variant in use today features protection such as missile launch warning systems and electronic countermeasures intended to jam incoming guided missiles.
While the A-10 has earned a famed reputation in service, much less is known about the C-146A Wolfhound, whose roles have often been shrouded in secrecy.
It is a modified civilian Dornier 328 commuter plane, and according to the Air Force, is intended to provide transportation for cargo and small teams in support of command infrastructure.
It too is ideal for rugged conditions, the branch says, with special capabilities to land on incomplete airfields or those with rough surfaces.