For more than 30 years, the A-10 Thunderbolt II—better known as the Warthog because it’s so ugly—has performed a crucial role: attacking hostile targets that threaten troops on the ground, a task called close air support. The plane, designed for the Cold War, is old. It’s slow. And it’s about as sophisticated as a hammer. But it is heavily armored and wickedly armed, making it a ruthlessly effective weapon. And that is why, despite ongoing efforts by Defense Department brass to kill it, the Warthog is headed back into battle to help in the fight against ISIS.
An undisclosed number of Warthogs, part of the “Blacksnakes” 163rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron based at Fort Wayne, Indiana, have been deployed to Middle Eastern airbases to provide air cover to troops fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Last summer I wrote about the pencil-pushers’ efforts to get rid of this war machine that is enormously popular with the people who, you know, actually fight wars.
Thankfully, John McCain had another lucid moment and he, along with a few others, have kept fighting for the old bird.
Pentagon brass, including outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, would like to retire the jet by 2019. But the A-10 has key supporters in Congress, including McCain and New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte (whose husband Joe flew the A-10 in Iraq). They argue there simply isn’t yet an adequate replacement. Not so, say those calling for the A-10’s retirement. The F-35 isn’t quite ready for battle, but they insist planes like the F-16 and the F-15E are up to the task.
That may be, but nothing elicits the same admiration for the Warthog, which is so ugly as to be beautiful, a machine designed to take no end of punishment even as it punishes those stand in its way. “Its ugliness makes it endearing,” Underwood says.
Unless you’re on the receiving end of that 30mm cannon.