Designed to house a massive 30mm rotary cannon, the A-10 Thunderbolt II is one of the US military’s most effective attack aircraft. Highly maneuverable and capable of flying low at slow speeds, the A-10’s heavy firepower makes it uniquely adept at taking out heavy ground artillery.
But despite its competence, the A-10 is aging. First inducted into service in 1976, the Air Force stopped producing the aircraft in 1984, making the newest Warthogs in the Pentagon’s arsenal 32 years old.
The plane is long overdue for retirement, and the Air Force has long considered an end to the A-10 as a way to save money, particularly in light of the growing expenses of the F-35 joint strike fighter program.
But according to Pentagon officials speaking to Defense One on condition of anonymity, the Air Force has shelved any plans of retiring the A-10. The officials say the aircraft is too valuable in the fight against Daesh.
The news has already been welcomed by a number of US lawmakers. For Arizona Senator John McCain, the A-10 is not only an invaluable asset against militant groups, but also crucial to stymie "Russian aggression."
"Today, the A-10 fleet is playing an indispensable role in the fight against ISIL in Iraq and assisting NATO’s efforts to deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe," McCain, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
"With growing global chaos and turmoil on the rise, we simply cannot afford to prematurely retire the best close air support weapon in our arsenal without fielding a proper replacement."
The Air Force has not yet confirmed the plan, with a spokeswoman telling Reuters that there was “no information at this time” on the A-10’s fate. The Air Force’s budget for fiscal year 2017 will be released next month, and could offer more concrete insights.