PARIS -- As the U.S. Air Force pushes to retire its fleet of A-10 attack aircraft, Boeing Co. doesn't want the planes to waste away in the Arizona bone yard -- it wants to sell them abroad.
The Chicago-based aerospace giant has begun discussions with the service about potentially selling the Cold War-era gunship known as the Warthog to U.S. allies, according to Chris Raymond, a vice president at the company.
"There's been talk about what the international opportunities might be," he said on Tuesday at the Paris Air Show, held at the historic Le Bourget airfield outside the city. "We're going to stay close to the U.S. Air Force in this case. They have to make some decisions about what they actually have that they're willing to declare as excess defense articles and so it's really not our place to speculate on that."
The Air Force has proposed retiring its fleet of almost 300 Warthogs over the next several years to save an estimated $4.2 billion a year and free up maintainers for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a stealthy multi-role fighter jet and the Pentagon's most expensive acquisition program.
But Congress, at least so far, has refused to let that happen, citing the plane's continued value in providing ground troops with close air support.
Fairchild-Republic developed the A-10 during the 1970s as a close air support aircraft designed to shred Soviet-era tanks with its 30mm Gatling gun in the nose. Boeing is under contract with the Air Force to refurbish the aircraft with 173 wing sets through 2017, according to the company.
Yet even as the service seeks to divest itself of the Warthog, American military commanders have used it to strike militants affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and to fly training exercises in Eastern Europe in a show of force against Russia for annexing the Crimea from Ukraine and supporting pro-Russian forces in the country.
Before any potential foreign military sale of the A-10, service officials will have to decide what their force structure will be, Raymond said. "We need to see what they want to do first and then we'd certainly want to try to help market some of those around the world, if they choose to want to do that." When asked when that may occur, he said, "I can't really predict. I think we got to get through the FY2016 budget process."
While many NATO allies want the F-35 because of its ability to carry out multiple missions, there are still a number of countries around the world interested in a military aircraft dedicated to close air support.
For example, Textron displayed its new AT-6 Wolverine gunship at the show. Officials said Iraq may be the first customer for the plane, which is an armed version of the Beechcraft T-6 Texan trainer. They also said there are other potential customers in the Middle East and Asia.
"Maybe they're seeing the same kind of space for that kind of capability around the world," Raymond said when asked about the potential competitor to the A-10. "It's important mission area for anybody [interested in the] close air support mission."