The Warthog will continue to fly.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter this week confirmed what had been rumored for months: The Air Force’s ground attack jet, the inelegant but well-armed and well-armored A-10 Thunderbolt, nicknamed the “Warthog,” will not face retirement for at least six years.
“The budget defers the A-10’s final retirement until 2022, replacing it with F-35 Joint Strike Fighters on a squadron-by-squadron basis, so we’ll always have enough aircraft for today’s conflicts,” Carter said in a speech previewing the Pentagon’s upcoming budget submission to Congress.
The Pentagon’s position on the A-10, which first joined the Air Force fleet in 1975, had been that it needed the money and crews being used to keep the A-10s flying for the brand-new F-35s and other missions.
But unlike the multirole F-35, the A-10 is the only airplane in the Air Force specifically designed for close air support, a mission that has become urgent in the fight against ISIS.
Able to circle over a target for long periods, the straight-winged Warthog is supremely maneuverable at low speeds and altitudes. So when ground troops find themselves in trouble — and too close to the enemy for fighter jets to drop bombs without risking friendly fire casualties — A-10 pilots can skim hillsides day and night, under any type of weather, and accurately and punishingly engage ground targets with its powerful 30 mm, seven-barrel Gatling gun, which fires depleted uranium bullets at 3,900 rounds per minute.
Carter’s announcement drew immediate praise from Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
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“There is no weapon in our arsenal that offers more effective close-air support to American ground troops serving in harm’s way than the A-10 aircraft,” McCain said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing our A-10 pilots continue to make important advances in the fight against ISIL in the Middle East, boosting NATO’s efforts to deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, and supporting vital missions for U.S. national security wherever they are needed.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, another Armed Services Committee member who has been a staunch advocate of keeping the A-10 in the air, called Carter’s announcement “a welcome and overdue victory for our ground troops and our nation’s close air support capabilities.”
“As ISIS has learned firsthand, the A-10 represents our nation’s most effective and lethal close air support aircraft,” Ayotte said in a statement.
The A-10’s role in the fight against ISIS was highlighted in Operation Tidal Wave II in November, when A-10s combined with AC-130 gunships to destroy 116 ISIS fuel tanker trucks.