The A-10 Warthog has been coming to the aid of ground combat troops since the Air Force received the first production plane in October 1975, with operations spanning nearly four decades and several continents.
The plane, which has been modernized extensively over the years and could remain in service until 2030 or later, is capable of carrying and accurately firing multiple munitions, loitering over a target, flying at low altitude and surviving enemy fire.
In July, the A-10 added another entry in its long combat history when two Warthogs rescued 60 U.S. soldiers who were ambushed during a routine clearance patrol in Afghanistan, according to an Air Force news account.
Over the course of two hours, the A-10s made 15 passes over the area, firing nearly all of their 2,300 30 mm rounds and dropping three 500-pound bombs before the enemy finally relented.
While the F-35 will count close-air support among its many missions, some Air Force observers are worried the multirole aircraft simply isnít designed for the risky job of protecting ground forces.
In June, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved its version of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill (S 1197), which includes report language requiring the Air Force and Army to study whether there are any shortfalls incurred when the Air Force ultimately retires the A-10s and the F-35 assumes the mission.
Whatever it decides about the A-10ís fate, the committee, it appears, wants to ensure the Air Force doesnít drop the ball on close-air support.
ďIf there are any gaps between capabilities and requirements, the Secretary of the Air Force should present alternatives for meeting those requirements,Ē the report stated.