WASHINGTON — An attack aircraft that the Pentagon is trying to get rid of has been deployed to the Middle East to take on the Islamic State.
A squadron-sized element of A-10 Thunderbolts arrived in the region during the week of Nov. 17-21, according to the Air Force. The aircraft were previously being used in Afghanistan.
The move marks the first time the ugly but battle-proven jet, also known as the “Warthog,” has been thrown into the fight against Islamic State, which controls much of Iraq and Syria. The A-10 is a slow, low-flying plane that can unleash massive amounts of firepower against enemy ground forces while conducting close-air-support missions.
“They’re going over there because there’s a need … to be postured for a combat rescue mission,” said Jennifer Cassidy, an Air Force spokeswoman.
However, the attack aircraft will likely be sent out to bomb Islamic State targets as part of the Pentagon’s larger air campaign.
“While they’re there we will maximize their use,” Cassidy said.
U.S. and partner nations have continued to strike Islamic State units and assets since the A-10 arrived in the region, but Cassidy said she did not know whether the Warthogs participated in any of those attacks.
The Air Force declined to provide the number of A-10s that are being deployed, other than to say that it is an “expeditionary squadron-sized element” of personnel and aircraft.
The planes are with the 163rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. The unit, also known as the “Blacksnakes”, is part of the Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing, based at Fort Wayne, Ind. The squadron is a component of the newly reactivated 332ndAir Expeditionary Group, its heritage tied to the famous 332rd Fighter Group led by the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. The group was reactivated on Nov. 16 to participate in Operation Inherent Resolve.
The service would not say where in the region the A-10s are deployed. The U.S. military uses a number of large air bases throughout the Middle East, and often declines to identify the host nations of particular combat aircraft due to political sensitivities.
There is a good deal of controversy surrounding the A-10. The Air Force is trying to retire the fleet to save money as the Pentagon faces large budget cuts. Service leaders argue that other aircraft can perform close air support missions.
But supporters of the A-10 in Congress and elsewhere argue that no jet in the inventory can fully replace the Warthog.