For those unfamiliar with military aircraft, drawing a strong distinction between a fighter aircraft and an attack aircraft may be complicated. However, these two different types of planes can play distinct roles and support different kinds of missions for air forces across the globe.
In certain air forces, there is a significant overlap between attack and fighter aircraft. For instance, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet can play both roles. In the United States Air Force, there are both dedicated fighters and designated attack aircraft. In this article, we will take a deeper look at the differences between fighters and attack aircraft.
The role of an attack aircraft
Modern attack aircraft (or ground attack or strike aircraft, as they are sometimes referred to) can conduct multiple types of operations. However, their targets are almost always located on the ground or the ocean’s surface.
One thing that attack aircraft are not intended to do is engage head-on with other aircraft. As a result, strike aircraft are not typically equipped with air-to-air weapons, such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder, as described by the Hill Aerospace Museum in Utah.
The role of a fighter jet
Fighter aircraft, while they can engage ground targets, have a far different and, in some ways, more critical purpose. Flying at higher altitudes, fighter jets are essential to maintaining air superiority — or airspace control.
To serve this purpose, fighter jets are extremely quick, maneuverable, and dynamic. Fighters are equipped with countless air-to-air weapons and can fly far faster and at higher altitudes than strike aircraft.
A legendary attack aircraft
The A-10 Thunderbolt II has been the backbone of the United States Air Force’s attack fleet since its introduction nearly 50 years ago. Developed by defunct manufacturer Fairchild Republic, the A-10, also known as the Warthog, is an extremely capable long-range attack aircraft.
What exactly is a fifth-generation fighter jet?
While most fighter jets, such as the F-35, use heavy after-burning turbofans due to the need to achieve supersonic speeds, the A-10 Warthog’s engines are far more comparable to those one would find on a commercial aircraft. There are some differences, however, as the GE TF34 turbofans are designed to handle far more severe damage from the battlefield than traditional jet engines.
But what makes the A-10 impressive isn’t its engines or range but rather its ability to sustain a mind-boggling amount of damage on the battlefield and still complete its missions intact. There is no shortage of images that demonstrate A-10s making it back to base with heavy bullet damage and potentially missing engines or wing sections.
In the heat of battle, A-10 Warthogs fly low to the ground, in the prime firing range for enemy surface-to-air defenses. For these reasons, A-10 pilots are among some of the Air Force’s most daring. That said, just one A-10, with a payload of up to 18 Mark 52 bombs, can deal a lethal load of ordinance to an enemy ground position.