After years of battling with Capitol Hill lawmakers, the U.S. Air Force has given up on its request to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II attack jet.
Pentagon officials told Defense One that the agency has decided to abandon its years-long push to mothball the aircraft, affectionately called the “Warthog” by troops, because it has become a key part of the U.S.-led coalition fight against ISIS.
The Air Force has waged a years-long campaign to scrap the A-10 in a bid to save roughly $4 billion. Service officials have argued that the plane’s close air support mission can be performed by other platforms, such as the B-1 bomber and the long-awaited F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Many lawmakers have disagreed.
The Air Force hasn’t done anything to downplay the aircraft’s importance in the last year. In addition to deploying it against Islamic militants, the A-10 has been sent to NATO allies in Eastern Europe as a show of force against Russia, and to South Korea.
Despite hints late last year that proposals to retire the A-10 would be abandoned, some still wondered whether the administration would once again seek to move the aircraft to the boneyard when President Obama unveils his fiscal year 2017 budget blueprint next month.
By leaking the news now, the White House quashes what would have been another bare-knuckled policy fight before it can even start. And the administration may have earned itself a slightly more receptive audience in Congress when it rolls out its funding pitch, though not before A-10 advocates take a victory lap.
“It appears the administration is finally coming to its senses and recognizing the importance of A-10s to our troops’ lives and national security,” Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), a retired Air Force colonel and A-10 commander, said in a statement.
Last year McSally, a member of the House Armed Services Committee whose district is home to roughly a third of the service’s A-10 fleet, spearheaded legislation to block the Air Force’s plan.
“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,” said Senate Armed Services Committee chair John McCain (R-AZ).
However, just because the Pentagon calculated there would be nothing to gain from suggesting the A-10 should be retired this year doesn’t mean it won’t propose doing so in the future, especially as the F-35 gets closer to coming online for the military branches.