Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove said Wednesday that the addition of A-10 Thunderbolts to his forces in Europe provided added deterrent as NATO and the U.S. European Command face new threats from Russia.
“It is clear that the capabilities these aircraft bring is needed” in the current environment, Breedlove, the supreme allied commander of NATO, said of the A-10s at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.
In response to questions from Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Breedlove singled out the anti-armor role of the A-10, dubbed the Warthog by ground troops, in close air support missions.
The Air Force has been pressing to retire the A-10s in favor of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but McSally and others have backed a bill to keep the A-10 in the inventory indefinitely.
Despite the Air Force moves to mothball the aircraft, A-10s were deployed to the Middle East last November to join the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and 12 A-10s from the 354th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron were deployed earlier this month from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.
On their six-month deployment, the A-10s were expected to participate in exercises as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which is NATO’s response to the crisis in Ukraine brought on by Russia’s backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Nearly two years ago, the U.S. withdrew all A-10s from Europe and McSally noted the irony of sending them back. “You can’t make this stuff up,” said McSally, a graduate of the Air Force Academy and a retired colonel who noted that she once commanded the A-10s that were sent to Spangdahlem.
At the HASC hearing, Christine Wormuth, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said that “the A-10 is a great platform” but also pointed out the budget constraints that have impacted the Pentagon. “We’ve had to make some tough choices,” Wormuth said.
— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com