Bombs Away: The 5 Most Deadly Attack Aircraft

The very old role of ground attack is still very important. Here are five aircraft that ground troops hope to never see in the skies above them. 

Is the dedicated attack aircraft a dying breed? Few air forces are developing new attack aircraft, preferring to rely on fighter-bombers carrying precision-guided munitions to do the dirty work of close air support and battlefield interdiction. But then it has always been such; tactical attack has long been shunted to the side by air forces more interested in fast fighters and majestic bombers. Many of the attack aircraft used in World War II began design life as fighters, only becoming attack planes when they “failed.” And yet these attack aircraft have, over the years, ably performed one of the most critical airpower missions—the destruction of the fielded forces of the enemy, and the support of friendly ground troops.

This article examines five modern aircraft that fill the very old role of ground attack. One of these aircraft has served since Vietnam; another has yet to fly a combat sortie. All are specialized (or have become specialized) for attacking enemy forces in tactical situations, and most have served in a variety of circumstances that emphasize the basic flexibility of the attack mission.