The A-10 Thunderbolt II attack jet has been carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State since late November on a near-daily basis, a U.S. military official said Tuesday. It marks the first time the use of the pugnacious plane against the militant group has been confirmed, although U.S. military officials disclosed last month that they had deployed the A-10 in support of the mission in Iraq and Syria.
The jet is beloved by U.S. ground troops for its ability to strikes enemy fighters from the air, but it remains in a fierce budget battle in Washington. Air Force officials and some fiscal conservatives have advocated retiring the aircraft to save money and using other planes for close-air support missions. A compromise in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act will keep it flying at least one more year, but it’s future afterward is still uncertain.
The slow-moving jet isn’t designed to get into dogfights with fighter jets, but is well suited for the mission in Iraq and Syria. Nicknamed the Warthog, it has an armored belly to protect pilots from ground fire, and carries a 30mm Gatling gun cannon and a variety of bombs, missiles and rockets. It has been in the Air Force since the 1970s and flown in combat missions since the 1990s. […]