Supporters see role for A-10 in ISIS fight

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Supporters of the A-10 “Warthog” fighter say the Pentagon should halt plans to scrap the jet, saying it is needed in the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The Pentagon has pushed for years to retire the A-10, which provides close air support for troops on the ground in battle, anticipating the need for more advanced aircraft in future ground wars. 

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But as military leaders acknowledge that U.S. troops in Iraq could face combat against ISIS militants, the A-10’s backers say it is not a good time to replace the popular jet.

“Defeating ISIS will require effective close air support — not just dropping bombs from high altitude on isolated targets —and there is no better CAS aircraft than the A-10,” said Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteErnst, Fischer to square off for leadership post The Hill's Morning Report: Koch Network re-evaluating midterm strategy amid frustrations with GOP Audit finds US Defense Department wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars MORE (R-N.H.).

“The A-10 is staple of our fleet and I believe we should continue the program for the foreseeable future,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Iraq veteran and member of the Illinois Air National Guard. 

“It provides close air support in a way no other aircraft can and is beloved by our troops for the countless lives it has saved,” he told The Hill in a statement. 

Pentagon officials say that budget concerns have not changed, and insist the Cold War-era jet must be retired in favor of advanced fighters such as the F-35 that can also provide close air support to ground troops.

“The A-10 has saved many lives, including those of some fellow Army officers and some fellow enlisted men,” said Frank Kendall, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition at an Air Force Association conference on Wednesday. “Today it has become unaffordable within our available budgets. 

Kendall has previously said that retiring the A-10 would “help the Air Force maintain and acquire more cutting-edge technology and weapons systems.”

Air Force officials say the F-15, F-16, the F-18 and the B-1 bomber can all offer close-air support, and so far have not used A-10s in the fight against ISIS. 

However, the Pentagon has quietly made plans to deploy a dozen A-10s to the Middle East in early October. Military officials say those aren’t specifically part of President Obama’s campaign against ISIS, but could play a role in the future. 

“The A-10 ‘Warthog’ is uniquely suited for the Combatant Commander’s needs, and the Blacksnakes are the right team to bring that capability to combat,” said Col. Patrick R. Renwick, commander of the 122nd Fighter Wing, on Wednesday, using a nickname for the unit.

Defense experts and proponents of the Warthog say there is no better aircraft to perform close air support and hit enemy targets in combat than the A-10, known as the “tank killer.”

“The kind of conflict that President Obama wants to fight against ISIS is typically of the role the A-10 performs,” said Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project On Government Oversight. “It can do this mission better than any other airplane.” 

“It can identify exactly what targets they’re going to hit — whether it’s the right target, or friendly forces. It has accurate weapons, especially the Gatling gun,” he said in an interview with The Hill. 

Pentagon leaders say they have no choice but to retire the aircraft, due to automatic defense budget caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act. 

Lawmakers had raised defense budget caps, but they are due to go into effect again in October 2015. 

The Pentagon sought to retire the A-10 in 2015, but measures in the House and Senate defense policy and spending bills — if passed — would delay retiring the aircraft for another year. 

Advocates are looking to ramp up their opposition to those retirement plans as U.S. troops possibly head back into battle.

“It can loiter over the battlefield longer to help attack and suppress enemy forces. The most important thing is that there is a cadre of trained air crew who know how to do this mission, rather than take on the mission as a part-time job,” Wheeler said. 

He cited an incident in June where a B-1 bomber killed 5 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. A traditional problem in battlefield support is to make sure the right targets are hit, he added.

“The A-10 does that better than any other airplane,” said Wheeler.