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Like a swarm of insects, a swarm of boats can pose a threat as a larger, far more expensive warship might not be able to swat them all — and a single missile with enough punch can be devastating.
The Iranian navy has continued to harass U.S. Navy vessels with small speedboats using swarming-style tactics. In August 2016, Iran harassed U.S. ships four times in a single week. During a shooting war, these swarms could threaten the strategic Strait of Hormuz — where a hefty chunk of the world’s oil passes through.
So the U.S. military is practicing with ways to defeat such a potential threat with tank-killing low- and slow-flying A-10 Warthogs.
The US Air Force had been trying to kill its vintage A-10 attack planes for years — the branch prefers stealthy fighters and bombers — but pressure from Congress and continued relevance in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have kept the Warthogs flying.
According to the nationalinterest.org, training included simulated attacks carried out by the Warthogs together with Canadian CF-18 Hornets on dozens of boats in a Florida bay. These were simply mock attack runs. An Air Force news release also noted that the civilian sailors practiced “realistic swarm attack formation maneuvers” with mocked-up machine guns fitted to their boats.
The Warthogs — built around a 30-millimeter rotary cannon and capable of carrying a variety of bombs and missiles — did fire inert rounds on unmanned boats at a different time during the exercise. The munitions expended during that other phase of the exercise also included delta-wing AGM-65 Maverick missiles and laser-guided bombs.
Interestingly, A-10s carrying out maritime attack missions is an old-school role for the plane, as the Warthog was originally envisioned in part as a sea attacker. But it has overwhelmingly fought on land with rare exceptions. For instance, A-10s attacked small boats during the 2011 Libyan intervention.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy has been testing its 30-kilowatt Laser Weapon System which it deployed aboard the amphibious ship USS Ponce based in the Middle East.