Maxim #4: Close air support covereth a multitude of sins.
By and large, grunts are all about enjoying the little things in life. They don't need much to be happy. Tobacco, good porn, a place to sleep with no one shooting at them, and the knowledge that they can take a dump without having to burn it later that week are all highly prized. They will bitch and moan incessantly about everything, but provide them with a few basic luxuries and they'll march right through hell's gates for you.
There are few things, however, that bring them more pure, unadulterated joy than the sound of the A-10 Warthog's nose gun strafing the life out of an enemy position. The distinctive BRRRRRRT sound of a 30mm Gatling gun lighting up something is better than a Jenna Jameson flick to many.
To the Air Force, the Warthog is the redheaded stepchild. It's slow, it's ugly, and it's not even a little stealthy. They've tried to kill it repeatedly over the years in favor of the trillion dollar boondoggle that is the F-35, with one general even going so far as to accuse anyone extolling the virtues of the beloved craft of "committing treason". The A-10, however, is still here. That general is not.
The simple fact of the matter is that a dedicated Close Air Support (CAS) platform is far better at providing support for the troops on the ground than any of the supposed multi-role fighters that the military has cooked up over the years, and any force that wishes to prevail in battle would do well to remember that.
So what makes a good CAS aircraft?
There are a few key features.
The first and most important is the ability to loiter onsite for extended periods of time. This requires a few things. Firstly, it has to be durable. Any aircraft that stays over an area for any real length of time is likely going to end up targeted by the enemy at some point. It can expect to face everything from Surface to Air Missile (SAM) fire to small arms fire from desperate enemy soldiers trying their best not to get turned into slowly rotting chunks of hamburger. It also has to be able to carry enough fuel to let it hang around without the pilots having to worry about trying their hand at gliding the thing in for a landing.
As a result, a dedicated CAS platform will likely be slower than a true fighter, but more heavily armored as well.
Another feature that will make it a hit with the troops is a really big gun. Bombs and missiles are nice, but there's only so much you can stuff onto an airframe. A big, distinctive gun can handle a wide variety of threats, and is a massive morale boost for the troops on the ground. Plus, there's nothing quite so pants-crappingly terrifying as watching a strafing run coming your way. Bombs are relatively impersonal. Terrifying to be sure, but they're not quite the same as watching an aircraft diving on your position with guns blazing. That alone can shatter an enemy's will to fight.
Make the gun big. Make it loud. Give it enough penetration power to punch through tanks, but a high enough rate of fire to chew up troops in the open. And, most importantly, give it enough ammo to let even the most trigger happy of pilots hose down the battlefield to their heart's content.
If the Factory Judge that looks at your submission doesn't need at least three drinks to deal with your main gun, you are a no go at this station.
If you're going to be hanging out over the battlefield for a while and strafing targets with abandon, it might also be a good idea to have the ability to coordinate directly with the troops on the ground. That as much as anything is why the A-10 is so well loved by infantry. If you're holed up with fire coming in from all directions, a direct line to your guardian angel can mean the difference between holding your position until you can counterattack and dying alone and afraid. A dedicated, encrypted CAS frequency is important. I can't stress that enough.
So there you have it folks: the recipe for a successful Close Air Support platform. It's not hard to get right, and if you nail it, you can make yourself a god among mortals on the battlefield. As always, if anyone has any questions or concerns, the comments section and my inbox are both open.