In a change of course, the U.S. Defense Department on Tuesday announced that it deployed A-10 attack aircraft to Turkey to conduct strikes against the Islamic State in Syria.
The Pentagon had already sent the low, slow-flying gunship overseas to attack ISIS targets in Iraq. An A-10 squadron was reportedly sent to undisclosed bases in the Middle East last fall to join the air campaign against the terrorist group, also known as ISIL.
But the U.S. military recently deployed more of the aircraft, known officially as the Thunderbolt II an unofficially as the Warthog, to join F-16 Fighting Falcon and other American military planes at the Incirlik airbase in Turkey, as my colleague Richard Sisk reported:
“The U.S. has deployed at least six A-10 Thunderbolt ground attack aircraft to Incirlik airbase in Turkey to hit ISIS targets in Syria, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The deployment of the aircraft popularly known as the Warthog, which the Air Force has been seeking to retire, was first reported by Turkish news outlets and later confirmed by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook.
‘There are A-10s arriving in Incirlik and I don’t have the exact number,’ Cook said. ‘This was part of a regular rotation that was planned,” he said at a Pentagon news conference. Other news outlets reported that as many as 12 A-10s were going to Incirlik.'”
The deployment was a reversal from comments made last year by then-Gen. Mike Hostage, the former head of Air Combat Command who has since retired. Speaking at an Air Force Association breakfast in July 2014, Hostage suggested the Cold War-era gunship wasn’t suited for operations in and around Syria, which has acquired a number of Russian-made air defense systems.
“People lambast me all the time, ‘How can you give up the A-10? It’s built for those kind of environments,'” he said at the time, according to a transcript of his remarks. “Well, it was built for the Fulda Gap in 1980. I could not send an A-10 into Syria right now. They’d never come back.”
Hostage added, “I would have to conduct three weeks of very significant IADS degradation before I could think about sending a fourth gen platform and I sure as heck wouldn’t end an A-10 in because the rate of fire that would come in at low altitude would be unsustainable.”
Syria is equipped with numerous Russia-made surface-to-air missile systems, including the SA-2, SA-3 and SA-5 static launchers and SA-6, SA-8, SA-10 and SA-11 mobile launchers, along with anti-aircraft batteries.
News of the A-10 deployment to Turkey came the same day the governments of Russia and the U.S. signed an agreement to minimize the risk of collisions and other dangers as both countries carry out airstrikes in Syria, the Associated Press reported.
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.