A Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II makes a hard bank after a strafing run.

A Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II makes a hard bank after a strafing run. U.S. Air Force photo/Justin Connaher

US Air Force Might Delay Retiring A-10 Attack Plane

Afghanistan, Africa, Iraq and Syria—all three conflicts might lead the U.S. Air Force to delay retirement of the A-10 'Warthog,' a top general said.

The United States Air Force is rethinking its plans to retire the venerable A-10 attack plane in response to an uptick in the demand for combat aircraft across the Middle East and Africa, the Pentagon’s air combat chief said Tuesday.

The U.S. airstrike campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, American troops staying in Afghanistan longer, and militant activity across Africa are all contributing to a shift in the Air Force’s contentious retirement plan for the cheap, slow-flying, but highly effective attack plane—and just weeks after the Pentagon announced it sent A-10s to Turkey to fight ISIS.

“I think we would probably move the retirement slightly to the right,” Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, the head of Air Combat Command, the arm of the Air Force that oversees all fighter and attack planes, said Tuesday at a Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington.

“Eventually we will have to get there, we will have to retire airplanes, but I think moving it to the right and starting it a bit later and maybe keeping the airplane around a little bit longer is something that’s being considered based on things as they are today and that we see them in the future,” said Carlisle.

The Air Force has told Congress over the past two years that it must retire the A-10 to save money in its budget and free up maintenance workers for newer the newer F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is now entering the inventory. Congress has yet to approve the request.

Now Carlisle says the Air Force is looking at other ways to complete its maintenance duties, including hiring contractors.

Operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Africa have placed a “greater demand on the capacity of the United States Air Force,” he said. The general also said the Pentagon is buying the F-35 at a slower rate than anticipated several years ago.

The final decision on whether to delay the A-10 retirement rests with Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff.

But Carlisle still plans to offer up the A-10 for deployments as long as they’re still around.

“If I have them, I’m going to use them,” he said. “They’re a fantastic airplane and I’m going to take advantage of them.”