How does an A-10 cannon kill tanks?

AIUI, the A-10 Warthog’s 30mm cannon is meant for a tank-killing role. What I’m trying to understand, though, is what a 30mm shell can do when supposedly even some 105mm rounds can’t necessarily penetrate tank armor.

Is the idea that the 30mm shells bore a hole in the tank armor by having dozens of them travel in the same path? (so, the first few dozen shells carve out a tunnel, then the next few shells can actually now fly through the bored path into the interior of the tank itself?)

I’m sure smarter people than I will be along shortly but at least part of the answer is that the A-10 kills from above. Penetrating the relatively thin armor of the turret roof is a much easier task than penetrating the thick frontal plates.

The top and back of tanks isnt armored heavily and the 30Mm round can penetrate 100mm.

The T55 and T72 can be destroyed from above.

If the 30mm just fired at the frontal armor, it wouldnt penetrate.

That whole depleted uranium thing gives the 30mm a special kind of, shall we say, impact?!

But it would be relatively rare for an A-10 to hit a tank from a high angle up. If the tank is a mile or two away, chances are the Warthog would be flying at a relatively flat angle, shooting the tank horizontally?

Although…I am guessing part of the job is that you don’t necessarily have to hit the armor at all; taking out the tank treads or engine could do just as well too.

A few hundred feet is still significantly a higher angle than 6 or 8 feet.

Also, spalling is a thing. Even if the rounds don’t fully penetrate, a bunch of shrapnel can spray off the inside from the impact…times a few dozen rounds. Thats like a few dozen shotgun rounds spraying and bouncing around the interior.

And AND, when fighting older tanks that weren’t specifically hardened against a warthog type attack, they are shredded.

The A-10 does not use its cannon against tanks made in the last 40 years or so. It was originally designed to chew up T-54s, T-62s, and T-64s but tanks developed after the 60s have sufficient top armor to resist the A-10s gun. The A-10 attacks modern tanks with anti-tank missiles like the Maverick or bombs.

The cannon is still useful against lighter vehicles - everything from armored infantry carriers through trucks, and is generally intimidating weapon and has been used against infantry in the open.

Even in the design stages, back when it was intended to hunt tanks with its gun, I don’t think that it was designed to hit the same hole multiple times or anything like that. It wouldn’t be accurate enough for that. It would simply saturate a tank’s weak points with enough rounds that some of them were likely to penetrate. It could also functionally mission kill a tank by destroying its tracks, optics, etc. I suspect but don’t know that it would’ve been standard procedure to dive as steeply as possible on the attack, as 90 degree angle attacks against the roof would’ve been the most viable type of attack.

Yes- but in Operation Desert Storm it was going against T55s and T62s.

One of my friends said it was like a video game.

A little insomnia and a willingness to play with some numbers. These are numbers drawn from the T-55 tank on Wikipedia.

T-55s are 2.4m tall, 3.4m wide, and getting slightly handwavey, coming in at 34 degrees should give you a 50/50 chance of hitting sides or top of the tank.

Shot penetration is measured at “0 degrees”, implying direct hits. So we’re at 56 degrees on top armour, 34 on the flanks. (This excludes marginal gravity-based shell drop, which would make roof hits steeper but flank hits more oblique).

I don’t have a means to hand of easily estimating how many shots would be likely to bounce, but we can say the more oblique the strike, the more likely a shot will. But with enough shots (and the A-10’s cannon is, if anything, good at bringing lots of shots to bear) odds are one will.

If it hits, any oblique shot has to dig through more armour since it’s not going straight through. We’ll get a reduced “effective penetration” as a result. With that said, hits on the sides or rear at our 34 degree dive have a an effective penetration of 89mm on the side/rear armour and 56 mm on the top (based on the 100mm penetration from earlier in this thread).

The T-55 is listed as having 130 to 205mm of armour on the turret (so no penetration),
60mm on the rear of the turret (vs 89mm penetration)
30mm on the roof (vs 56)
79mm upper hull, 20mm lower hull
and 33 to 16mm on the upper hull.

Which is to say any given shell from the gun can punch through a T-55’s armour, with a bit of luck, so long as it hits any part of the tank other than the front armour, or the front or sides of the turret. You don’t need to “tunnel”; with any given hit capable of punching a hole through that tank’s top or flank armour, any individual hit can be a mission kill, and dozens of hits would result in catastrophic damage.

I ran out of patience trying to find stats on the T-72’s armour, especially stats on the thickness of the top of the hull. However, Chechen rebels were able to take these things down with multiple RPG-7 hits, so… maybe the A-10 cannon could do the job, why not? I can only handwave so much.

It targets to foil aluminum tanks specifically?

I looked up the Wikipedia article on depleted uranium expecting its use in ammunition was for extra mass. Instead I read this:
“Depleted uranium is favored for the penetrator because it is self-sharpening[35] and flammable.[31] On impact with a hard target, such as an armored vehicle, the nose of the rod fractures in such a way that it remains sharp.[35] The impact and subsequent release of heat energy causes it to ignite.[31] When a DU penetrator reaches the interior of an armored vehicle, it catches fire, often igniting ammunition and fuel, killing the crew and possibly causing the vehicle to explode.”

Does the USAF want to replace the A-10 because it can’t kill modern tanks with the gun?

No, they just want to allocate the money to more Air Force type stuff instead of ground support. The Warthog is still the best friend to Soldiers & marines on the ground in combat. It does an incredible job of wiping out opposing forces that aren’t tanks.

Marines were talking about taking some of the Warthogs themselves and I think the Army expressed some interest also.

An RPG works differently from 30mm depleted uranium rounds. An RPG is a “shaped charge” attached to a rocket that moves relatively slowly. When it hits something, the charge explodes and shoots a jet of molten metal through whatever it just hit.

In contrast, the 30mm rounds from the A-10’s Avenger cannon travel at a much higher velocity and rely on sheer kinetic energy to punch through whatever it hits.

One of the big things USAF is doing is recognizing that the lifespan of a warthog over a Chinese or Russian armor or mechanized infantry formation is measured in seconds.

As long as we’re fighting Afghans & Iraqis & such, the A-10 is fully relevant. Against so called “near peer” competitors, it’s long past it’s sell-by date.

As a separate matter, the system is getting real long in the tooth. It’s about time to invest as much money as they cost originally in refreshing them (again; it’s already been done once), or in building their replacement. Otherwise you’re left with what lots of tinpot Air Forces have: a bunch of non-flyable combat-irrelevant museum pieces.

The inter-service politics you mention are not completely absent. But they’re not the whole story and are not even the biggest part of the story.

The Airforce really wants nothing but sexy fighter planes and strategic bombers. They do transport also, but it isnt sexy either.

Nothing you wrote is incorrect, but the Air Force has shown no indication they want to pay for and maintain any ground air support jets.

Thus why the Marines and Army are scrambling a little. They seem well aware the Warthog is not an excellent tank killer, but it still does wonders wiping out dug in enemy infantry.

What DrDeth just posted is basically the core philosophy of the Air Force. This is why the Army has put so much effort into Ground Support helicopters.

No, they want to do it because an A-10 isn’t stealthy, and non-stealthy big aerial things die quickly on the anticipated near-peer battlefield. (In addition to what LSLGuy wrote above.) Strangely, this doesn’t seem to apply to small drones. Yet.

A-10 coloring book article, discussing a homemade training aid for teaching pilots where to shoot on the Warsaw Pact tanks of the time.

DU is also dense. Very dense. Steel has a specific gravity of 7.8, lead is about 11.3, and DU is about 19.

Tungsten is actually slightly denser, with a specific gravity of 19.25. Despite that, the U.S. military has been reluctant to move away from DU to tungsten penetrators, for the reasons @garygnu cites. If you only wanted a hard, dense material for your penetrator, tungsten would actually be a better choice. DU is used in anti-armor munitions because of its pyrophoric and superior self-sharpening properties.