TUCSON, Ariz. (KSAZ)
The Pentagon has deployed A-10 strike aircraft to Turkey, even before the terrorist attacks on Paris France, to take part in the U.S. led bombing raids on the Islamic state.
The aircraft is familiar to many Arizonans, with a major A-10 base at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson. But at the same time it fights Islamic extremists, the aircraft is still fighting a political battle to stay in the air.
Spitting 30mm uranium tipped rounds from it's nose mounted cannon, this is how the A-10 responds to mandatory retirement.
The A-10 was first declared combat ready back in 1978; Jimmy Carter was President and Annie Hall won the Oscar for best picture. It was designed for a time when if the cold war ever turned hot, the A-10 would slow a Soviet advance into Western Europe.
38 years later the A-10's are still flying. Squadrons are being sent to Europe to bolster NATO while Russia bullies Ukraine. And another squadron joined the war on ISIS in Iraq and Syria. It's said that when the A-10 appears in the skies, ISIS soldiers scurry to save their lives.
But can this ungainly and legendary aircraft its pilots call "the hog" save itself?
Since 1991, the Pentagon has been trying to get rid of the A-10 when in a single day 2 A-10's destroyed 23 Iraqi tanks.
After that victory, efforts to get rid of the plane stopped.
"They want to spend more money on the F-35," said Senator John McCain.
The A-10 has some powerful friends in Washington D.C. like Senator McCain who pushed through a bill funding the A-10 for at least one more year.
"And I guarantee you as long as I am Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee the A-10 until they find an adequate replacement, will remain in operation at Davis-Monthan AFB," said McCain.
The Arizona Republican stopped by FOX 10 recently, and when asked about the A-10 he says it's all about capability. He's been critical of the F-35 that reportedly cannot handle close air support as well as the A-10. When U.S. or allied ground forces get into trouble, they want help from the air. It's something that Sen. McCain believes the A-10 can still provide.
So can anything truly replace the A-10?
"Certainly not at the cost," said McCain.
The A-10 costs about $15 million each; the F-35 costs $150 million.
"Talk to the pilots, those are the ones who will tell you," said McCain.
Taking the Senator's advice, FOX 10 went to Tucson to interview an A-10 pilot. Tucson is a great place to fly the A-10, the weather is usually perfect, and the nearby Barry M. Goldwater range gives them wide open spaces to practice.
Most pilots are not politicians and do not get caught up in discussions about budget cuts or defense bills. But if you ask them about flying an aircraft that is years older than they are, you get a feeling for why they love their job.
Captain Kyle Schaefer of the 354th Fighter Squadron spoke about his thoughts on the A-10.
"It's affectionally known as the hog for all the Warthog pilots. It's very easy to fly, and it's very forgiving. When you look at it, it's very rugged, it's pretty much like a big flying tank," said Capt. Schafer.
"Being located in Arizona, in Tucson with the Barry Goldwater Range that we have here to utilize, it's some of the best training you're going to see," said Schafer.
"We got 30 mm bullets; we have different types of bullets depending on what we're doing. If you look at the aircraft from straight on, you notice the nose wheel is a little off center. The aircraft really revolves around the 30mm cannon there," he said.
"It's got multiple hydraulic systems, and it's not fly by wire, so it's still got cables and pullies to protect us," said Schafer
Last week an Air Force General said it may not be the right time to retire the A-10 after all, especially since they are being flown against ISIS targets. He says the A-10 may keep flying at least through 2019.