The U.S. Air Force has decided to keep the A-10 “Warthog” close air support jet in service until 2040. The jet, designed to dominate Cold War battlefields, will still be flying 50 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. That’s the good news. The bad news? The service is downgrading the jet’s mission, from one flying over tank columns on the ground to bombing bandits and insurgents in lightly defended airspace.
The Air Force, Air Force Magazine reports, plans to cut 44 jets from the A-10’s standing fleet of 281 aircraft. The remaining 237 jets will fly on in seven squadrons split among three active duty, three National Guard, and one reserve squadron, respectively. Retiring a portion of the fleet will enable the service to fund upgrades designed to keep the A-10 flying along much, much newer planes, and tap into the Air Force’s new generation of networking and communications systems, boosting the airplane’s overall usefulness on the digital battlefield of the future.
In addition to the A-10s, the Air Force plans to cut 29 aerial refueling tankers, 24 C-130H transport aircraft (the current version is the -J), 24 Global Hawks drones, and 17 B-1B Lancer bombers. All of the manned aircraft are older planes, particularly the aerial refueling tankers, some of which entered service in the 1950s. Older planes are typically more expensive to keep in service, as sourcing spares and the lifespan of key parts becomes an issue. By retiring older planes, the Air Force hopes to free up funds to buy and support new planes.
The A-10 is being kept on one condition, though: it is no longer designated to fly over heavily defended battlefields. The Air Force is convinced the aircraft, designed to unleash missiles, rockets, bombs, and its GAU-8/A 30-millimeter Gatling gun is no longer able to fly over “double digit” air defenses. These include the SA-11 “Buk” surface-to-air missile system, SA-15 “Tor” surface-to-missile system, SA-24 “Needle” shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile, and the truck-mounted SA-22 “Pantsir-1” missile system.
Instead, the Warthog is now relegated to supporting U.S. troops over “lightly contested or defended” air space. Think insurgents driving pickup trucks with machine guns bolted to the bed, plus a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile or two. Think Afghanistan or Somalia—not Russia or China.
Read more: Popular Mechanics