The A-10 Thunderbolt, which has been flying missions for the U.S. Air Force since 1977, is about to find a new lease on life: The Cold War relic will soon be flying in Syria to fight the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, according to a Defense One report Wednesday. U.S.-supported rebel groups on the ground in Syria will likely be pleased to hear of the A-10 deployment as the aircraft is perfect for close-air support, able to fly low to the ground and pinpoint enemy targets without fear of taking friendly fire in areas of close combat.
“There are A-10s arriving in Incirlik [Air Base in Turkey], and I don’t have the exact number … and this was part of a regular rotation that was planned,” said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook.
The Thunderbolt, which is affectionately known to airmen as the Warthog for its ungainly appearance, had been brought in to attack ISIS targets in the past after being used in Iraq in November.
While the defense budget is currently in a state of flux as U.S. President Barack Obama ponders the congressional version, the A-10’s newest deployment is likely to add fuel to the long debate about its future. Even though the aircraft is coming up on its 40th birthday in 2017, there are no plans in Congress to retire the plane. The U.S. Air Force wants to mothball the fleet so it can divert aircraft maintenance to the $1.5 trillion F-35 program. This debate has caused tit-for-tat accusations from A-10 supporters in Congress and detractors in the Air Force.
The aircraft, which operates in a number of National Guard units, is also being used to thwart Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, where Moscow had been antagonizing former Soviet republics in the Baltic region.
The exercise, which is part of a broad, pan-European mission known as Operation Atlantic Resolve, is designed to be a show of force against a Russia that annexed Crimea in March 2014 and continues to assist pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. In addition to the Baltics, recent deployments have seen the U.S. military train with local forces in the Balkan states, Germany, Poland and Ukraine.