Maj. Melissa J. Milner, an Air Force spokeswoman on budget matters, said Wednesday she could not comment on the Defense One report that the Cold War-era attack aircraft had been spared indefinitely, but boosters of the plane affectionately known to ground troops as the "Warthog" hailed the move to keep them in the inventory.
"It appears the administration is finally coming to its senses and recognizing the importance of A-10s to our troops' lives and national security," said Rep. Martha McSally, a Republican from Arizona and a retired Air Force colonel who flew the A-10.
"With A-10s deployed in the Middle East to fight ISIS, in Europe to deter Russian aggression, and along the Korean peninsula, administration officials can no longer deny how invaluable these planes are to our arsenal and military capabilities," said McSally, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, also known as ISIL.
For the past three years, the Air Force has sought to begin mothballing the A-10s in favor of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to take over the close air support mission. Each year, the House and Senate have blocked the cuts.
In a statement, Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and the chairman of the defense panel, said, "I welcome reports that the Air Force has decided to keep the A-10 aircraft flying through Fiscal Year 2017, ensuring our troops have the vital close-air support they need for missions around the world."
The debate over the A-10s appears to have been shelved as commanders in the Iraq and Syria air war increasingly call upon the Thunderbolts flying out of Incirlik air base in Turkey and other bases in the Mideast for attack missions.
Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, has repeatedly cited the "devastating" effects of the A-10's GAU-8/A seven-barrel, Gatling-type cannon on the positions and fighters of ISIS.
In a session with reporters last September at the Air Force Association's annual conference, Air Force Gen. Herbert J. "Hawk" Carlisle, head of the Air Combat Command, called the A-10 "a fantastic airplane doing fantastic work downrange" in Iraq and Syria.
"One of the questions I get is if you're going to retire the A-10s why are you still using them in the fight? Well, that's an easy answer. I don't have enough capacity. I've got to use every single thing I've got. I don't have enough capacity" to handle the missions in Iraq and Syria without the A-10s, Carlisle said.
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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