On July 9-12, 2014, 14 different A-10 squadrons from across the country participated in the biannual gunnery competition called HAWGSMOKE! The 2014 Hawgsmoke competition was hosted by the 357th Fighter Squadron (The Dragons) based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona.
Colonel Cliff Latta of the 172nd Fighter Squadron developed Hawgsmoke concept. Five years previously (1995), the United States Air Force cancelled it’s worldwide gunnery competition that was held at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, Nevada. This gunnery competition was called “Gunsmoke” and had been held biannually since 1949.
The first Hawgsmoke was held in 2000 at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center in Michigan. The 172nd Fighter Squadron hosted this inaugural Hawgsmoke. The Connecticut Air National Guard’s 118th Fighter Squadron won the first Hawgsmoke and subsequently hosted the 2002 Hawgsmoke.
The purpose of Hawgsmoke is to have A-10 pilots fly and compete against the best Warthog pilots in the Air Force and remembering fallen comrades from the A-10 community.
The host squadron – 357th Fighter Squadron, selected 2014 Hawgsmoke flight evolutions that included the following:
- 30 and 45 Degree High Angle Strafe Runs (approximately 1 mile from target)
- Low Level Long and Short Range Strafe (approximately 1 mile / 3,000 yards (respectively) from target)
- Combat Search and Rescue – Locating a simulated down pilot
All these evolutions are related to the A-10s primary mission – Close Air Support.
Hawgsmoke 2014 would use the Warthogs GAU-8/A Avenger 30mm cannon only – no rockets or missiles. To increase the challenge, the Avenger cannon would be used in the “manual mode” of delivery.
On July 10th, members of the media were invited to attend the gunnery portion of Hawgsmoke. At 6am, 25 members of the media climbed aboard an Air Force bus for the 2.5-hour drive to the Barry Goldwater gunnery range.
Within 30 minutes, the first flight of four A-10s began their gun runs. First they conducted their 30 and 45 degree attack runs. The target was an armored vehicle about a mile from where we were. Due to the distance from our staging area to the roll in point, it was hard to get photos. One unusual thing I witnessed was that when the Warthog was its diving attack, the first thing you would see was the “gun gas” coming off the Avenger cannon. Next you would hear the 50 rounds of 30mm impacting the target. Lastly, you would hear the actual cannon rounds.
Once the high angle strafes were over, then the 4-ship section began its long and short-range low level strafing runs. The target here was a large target that wasa “plus” shape. The center was a 3-meter square.
Each of the 4 A-10s would roll in and fly a parallel course to our staging area, no more than 200 yards away! Hee Yah…From this position, you got the true feeling of the Warthog and its tanking killing cannon. From approximately 1 mile out, the pilot would send 50 rounds of 30mm into the 3-meter square target and then break into a nearly 90 degree left turn. This gave members of the media some incredible photo opportunities.
Once the four ship was done with the gunnery evolutions, they departed for the next evolution – the Combat Search and Rescue event.
During this down time, I spoke with A-10 pilot – First Lieutenant James “Squat” Rosenau from the 354th Fighter Squadron (The Bulldogs). Squat is a 200+ hour Warthog driver and has been with the Bulldogs since November 2013. I asked Squat two questions regarding the A-10s GAU-8/A Avenger 30mm cannon.
How hard is the 3-meter square target to hit?
“Shooting that target with the computing site is not problem, however using only the manual site requires more pre-mission planning (i.e. wind direction, etc.).”
What’s it like in the cockpit when you fire the Avenger cannon?
“First, you can’t hear the sound of the cannon from the cockpit, but you can feel the bone rattling shutter and can obviously see the gun gas.”
By noon (and almost a 1,000 photos later) we were back on our bus and headed back to Davis-Monthan.
And the Winner is
The winner of the 2014 Hawgsmoke was United States Air Force Reserve Command’s own 47th Fighter Squadron, based at Davis Monthan. Looks like Hawgsmoke 2016 will be returning to DM!
I would like to thank the Public Affairs unit at Davis-Monthan and especially Second Lieutenant Erin Ranaweera and Staff Sergeant Angela Ruiz for access to such a phenomenal event.
Following gallery by Keith Charlot..