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  • Writer's pictureFrank Visser

2024 Dogpatchers on the hunt


Dogpatchers

The 47th FS is a US Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) squadron, which is part of the 944th FW. It’s the only A-10 squadron in the Wing and are called the Terrible Termites (or just Termites, for short). However, the unit is often referred to, by its pilots, as Dogpatch for the town in the Li’l Abner comics, a tradition started by World War 2 pilots in the pacific. Even to this day, each 47 FS A-10 has its own assigned Li’l Abner character which is displayed on the jet along with the unique boars face and tusk on the nose.



Like any other reserve or guard unit, it’s made up by a mix of full- and part-time members. The traditional reservists are part-timers and often fly for an airliner as their primary civilian job. They team up around eight days a month to fly, instruct, and maintain currencies on the A-10. Lt Col “Peta” Harney is the present commander of the 47th FS: “We recently had a large influx in of traditional, part-time reservist with the uptick in airline hiring. We’re proud to showcase the Citizen Airman role.“

Pilots pf the 47th FS "Dogpatchers" walk to their jets at the flightline during a Greenf Fag exercise at Nellis AFB

The 47th FS has 26 A-10Cs in its inventory and has around 34 pilots and 13 enlisted and civilian personnel. This doesn’t include the 20+ aircraft flight equipment specialist and intelligence Airman which serve critical roles in the 924th Operations Support Flight. The vast majority of pilots are Majors or Lieutenant Colonels, which bring a lot of experience into the squadron. Lt Col Harney: ”Our instructors have, on average, about 2,400 A-10 hours, including 500 combat hours.” The captains are mainly from the active duty units. Lt Col Harney: ”We maintain a strong relationship with our RegAF partners by sending 3-4 Termites to work in their squadron, and in turn, they do the same for us. That process ensures instructional standardization and important crosstalk of our experience with their recent tactical, ops experience.” The aircraft are kept in peak condition by personnel of the 924th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS) who are full- and part-time reservist and the 924th Maintenance Squadron (MXS), which is comprised of active and reserve Airman.


Tasks

Like any other squadron operating the A-10C, the 47th FS main tasks are Close Air Support (CAS), Forward Air Controlling (FAC), and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR). To execute these tasks the A-10C can draw on a vast arsenal of weapons. Besides its impressive 30mm General Electric GAU-8 Avenger gatling gun, the A-10C can carry a wide variety of weapons in multiple configurations on its eleven external pylons, such as the GBU-12 Laser Guided Bomb, GBU-31 and -38, JDAM, GBU-54 hybrid laser and inertially guided bomb, GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB), CBU-103 and 105 Cluster Bombs, AGR-20 laser rockets, and AGM-65 “Maverick” missiles. Operational testing is also well-underway for AMD-160 Miniature Air Launched Decoys (MALD) and the ALQ-167 “Angry Kitten” jamming pod. These combined weapons and self-protection systems represent a significant increase in survivability, standoff, and lethality on the modern battlefield.

Warthog pilot is preparing the jet for a new mission over the Nevada ranges

For a FAC(A) mission, the A-10 is used as a tactical command and control capacity, where the capability of the Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) on the ground is extended. Through detailed integration and planning, the A-10 can direct air strikes to mass firepower while ensuring airspace deconfliction of supporting assets and surface fires. The JTAC and the A-10 pilots work closely together to advise for weaponry and tactics. Although the A-10 has been in service for over forty years, it has been upgraded numerous times. One of these upgrades is the Hybrid Optical based Initial Tracker (HObIT). This is mounted in the new HGU-55/P helmet. Lt Col Harney: ”In the past, getting talked on to the target could be a challenging process when you need to identify more features than what you can see through the “soda straw” of your targeting pod. To locate the target visually, “over the rail” for direct fire weapons such as the gun, you might have had to fly your Head Up Display (HUD) momentarily through the target area and memorise geographic features to expedite correlation. Now with the capability of the HObIT integrated into our systems, displaying information from our mission inputs and multiple datalinks such as Link16, I can look out at the battlespace and see waypoints for targets (red triangles), friendly forces (green dots), artillery and associated gun-to-target lines (magenta squares and lines), threats (circle with threat label), and where my wingman’s system is targeting, to name a few.” The HObIT is a monocle system, not a camera system, and it uses an inertial tracker and an optical sensor. At day and night (through night vision googles), pilots see a colored image when looking through the monocle which can be used in both the air-to-air and air-to-ground role.

A-10C "Moonbeam McSwine" with boar face and tusk taxies out for its mission

Because all A-10s are currently scheduled to be phased out by 2029, improvements now are focused on lower-cost, off-the-shelf systems that still improve the A-10 including a jam-resistant GPS upgrade. Audio is also improved, so besides a visual picture of the battlefield the pilot can also hear a 3D audio from within its headset for improved battle space situational awareness. Lt Col Harney: ”Tucson is a great place to operate from. The vicinity of the base and the great airspace for training such as military operating areas (MOAs) and the Barry M Goldwater Range (BMGR).” Besides MOAs located a short distance in every direction, the 47th FS utilizes three tactical ranges on the BMGR, each containing a well-developed main and auxiliary airfield populated with multiple targets of different types, which can be attacked with live ordnance. Besides being experts in CAS, FAC(A), and CSAR, the 47th FS has an important mission.

As soon as the 47th FS moved from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona in 2013, the squadron resumed its previous role as a Formal Training Unit (FTU) in order to forge the next generation of attack pilots. It serves as the only unit-equipped schoolhouse that trains Undergraduate Pilot Training pipeline students, previously qualified A-10 or other fighter aircraft pilots, and senior officers. The Initial Qualification Course (or B-course) takes up to six-months to complete. The students start by learning to fly the A-10, then execute air-to-air and air-to-surface syllabus sorties before focusing on the tactical surface attack and CAS. Besides flying the A-10 (80 flying hours), training is also done at the simulator (40 hours). After completing the B-course, the pilots are combat ready, at times, spending less than a month in their operational squadron before deploying.

A-10C Thunderbolt II takes off from Nellis AFB for a Green Flag mission with the 3rd Armored Brigade, US Army

47th FS and Green Flag

During a two weeks period in April the 47th FS participated in Green Flag 23-06, held at Nellis AFB. This setting provides the perfect environment for the student’s final training phase. Lt Col Harney: ”Out here at Nellis, we’re focussing on Large Scale Combat Operations (LSCO), supporting a major force-on-force engagement where the enemy is going to have capable air threats and manoeuvre elements.” The 47th FS works closely with the 8,000-person 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team (3rd ABCT) on the ground. “We’ve achieved incredible success already thanks to the expertise of our pilots, special capabilities of the A-10, and the efforts of our weapons officers and planners that integrated with the JTAC’s of the 7th Air Support Operations Squadron (ASOS) and the 3rd BCT very early in the process. We had in-person visits with the Army and worked CAS missions back home with the 7th ASOS to streamline tactical contracts we developed specifically for this exercise,” said Lt Col Harney. He continues: “We created air coordination measures and tactics that aligned with the Army’s doctrinal airspace structure. It allowed for the rapid execution of our fires, synchronized SEAD (suppression of enemy air defence) assets, and protected friendlies while ensuring the Army maintained total freedom of indirect fires and manoeuvre. We feel the initial, detailed planning and unique fires contracts made a big difference from previous Green Flag exercises.”

A 47th FS Warthog breaks away over Nellis AFB

The reason for the 47th FS’s participation in Green Flag is that the USAF is shifting towards Agile Combat Employment (ACE). Lt Col Harney: “Because ACE is part of our syllabus now, we’ve been directed to get our pilots away from their home stations for the final portion of training in order to prepare them for how the combat air force is going to operate for the foreseeable future.” Green Flag gives the students the best level of training for supporting actual forces, which is difficult to replicate in other exercises. They see live battlefield movements and mobile threat emitters that are integrated in different scenarios, which helps them to gain the necessary experience. To support the 47th FS during their Green Flag missions a KC-135 tanker (92nd Air Refueling Wing) was provided airborne refueling for the exercise. The 47th FS was the only fighter squadron to participate during the whole exercise. There were plans for a second Fighter Squadron, but they were unable to support and couldn’t join the 47th FS at Green Flag 23-06. Besides the 47th FS, a Dyess AFB C-130J took part in the exercise and landed and performed the refueling part at a Forward Arming and Refuelling Point (FARP) with M1 “Abrams” tanks for the first time ever. Additional assets integrated into Green Flag included a RQ-4B “Global Hawk” from the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron, EC-130H from the 41st Electronic Combat Squadron, A-10s from the 66th Weapons School, and a specially modified Civil Air Patrol Cessna 206 designed to replicate a MQ-9 “Reaper”. A total of 29 pilots of the 47th FS took part in the exercise. Lt Col Harney: “The first week we focussed on the force-on-force fight while the second week included a variety of CAS missions like high-threat, COIN, and SOF direct-action support in the medium and low altitude environments.

A Warthog returns to Nellis after a 3 hours early morning mission which started at 07.00 am

Green Flag is remarkable because it exercises the full spectrum of combat operations starting from GFC (ground force commander) request/intent, air tasking order development, intel integration, and mission planning, resulting in targets struck according to the high payoff target list.” With limited munitions relative to the vast number of targets, it’s important for the pilots and JTACs to focus on battlefield effects and the GFC’s priorities versus simply engaging targets of opportunity. Every Green Flag is an exercise that organically develops. The USAR Brigade on exercise is confronted with a serious counterpart and the whole exercise is monitored by a so-called “white force” who provides scenarios inputs and challenges. If they conclude that a scenario wasn’t as effective as planned, they do a quick reset on the battlefield and start over again. The missions therefore are as realistic as can be and depend on how the scenario on the ground develops. If a commander on the ground runs into unexpected situations, missions will be updated to the current situation.


Commander 47th FS Lt Col Thomas “Peta” Harney

Lt Col "Peta"Harney, CO of the 47th FS "Dogpatchers"

On his tenth birthday his dad took him up for his first flight and from that moment on Lt Col Harney knew he wanted to become a pilot. When he commissioned out of the University of Alabama he started flight school at Vance AFB, Oklahoma in 2003, flying the T-37 and T-38. After graduation he went to Moody AFB, Georgia for his Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals (IFF) training on the T-38C “ Talon”. From there on he went to the 355th Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, where he attended Initial Qualification Training (IQT) on the A-10A. His first assignment was at Pope AFB, North Carolina, with the 23rd Wing, flying the A-10 with the 75th FS. After three months, Lt Col Harney had his first deployment of four months to Bagram, Afghanistan. After returning the 23rd Wing moved to Moody AFB, Georgia, were Lt Col Harney completed his 2-ship flight lead upgrade on the A-10. In 2008 he went up for a second deployment to Bagram. After returning to US, he went through 4-ship and IP training for his squadron. His third deployment to Afghanistan followed soon after in 2010, this time to Kandahar. He then joined the 357th FS at Davis Monthan AFB in 2011 until 2014 as a B-course IP. He had the unique opportunity to work with the department of the US Navy and therefore went to San Diego to work with the Marines Joint Terminal Attack Controller Party (TACP) school house in the Expeditionary Warfare Training Group Pacific. Lt Col Harney: “This assignment gave me an opportunity to better understand on how our joint forces operate and it made me a much better Forward Air Controller.“ In 2017 he returned to Moody AFB and re-joined with the 75th FS as the director of operations until 2019, which included another deployment to Kandahar. During this deployment he could bring his previous experience over to the younger guys. He ended his active career and joined US Air Force Reserve 924th Fighter Group and 47th FS at Davis-Monthan AFB. As a reservist he also started his airline career. In 2021 he became a fulltime reservist and a year later became the commander of the 47th FS. Around 2025 he plans to retire and resume his airline career.


Present A-10 inventory 47th FS


Serial Character

78-0582/DP Boyless Bailey

79-0094/DP Old Man Mose

79-0105/DP Daisy Mae

79-0144/DP Red Herring

79-0145/DP Hairless Joe

79-0146/DP Li’l Abner

79-0147/DP Mammy Yokum

79-0148/DP Moonbeam McSwine

79-0150/DP Wolf Gal

79-0151/DP Cave Gal

79-0153/DP Marryin’ Sam

79-0154/DP Evil Eye Fleegle

79-0180/DP Joe

79-0197/DP Ondine Onusual

79-0210/DP Bald Iggle

80-0146/DP Lonesome Polecat

80-0160/DP Stupefyin Jones

80-0171/DP Shmoos

80-0173/DP Gloria van Welbilt

80-0232/DP Hopeful Mudd

80-0278/DP Pappy Yokum

80-0280/DP Tiny Yokum

81-0939/DP Earthquake McGoon

81-0974/DP Appassionata Von Climax

81-0997/DP The wrecker

82-0663/DP Tigress


The A-10s operated from a revetment during exercise Green Flag

Future

Introduced in the beginning of the eighties, during the Cold War the A-10 has proved itself over the last four decades as a great CAS platform. The end of this aircraft will probably be around 2029, when the USAF will phase out all Warthogs. Which aircraft the 47th FS will transition to in the future is uncertain for now. Lt Col Harney: “Until that moment comes, we are continuing to do the best we can and be able to train our guys. When the transition to another airframe comes, they have learned their CAS lessons and can proceed.” Lt Col Harney goal as a commander of the 47th FS is to be ready as a squadron, mission focus is essential, to be just as effective as any active USAF squadron if the nations calls comes!

The sight and sound of the A-10C Thunderbolt II already scares the enemies, brrrrrrrtt....

The complete article "Dogpatchers on the hunt"can be found in the Airforces Monthly magazine yearbook 2024, the best of AFM from 2023!!

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