The US Air Force has announced it will be breaking out the big guns in the war on ISIS in Syria. A squadron of A-10s has been forward deployed to Turkey in support of air operations over Syria and Iraq. The A-10 squadron will be joining the F-16s, F-15s, F-18s, F-22s, and the B-1s currently striking ISIS targets. It has been a year since the A-10 last saw action in the region, when the Indiana Air National Guard A-10s were helping defend Iraqi and Kurdish forces against the Islamic State blitzkrieg. The versatile aircraft has long been loved by ground forces, as they provide integral close-air support missions that the faster, strike fighter aircraft lack. Despite its proven record on the battlefield, the A-10 has been threatened with retirement as a result of the production of the F-35 series.
The timing for the deployment of the A-10 to Syria could not have occurred at a better time. With the change in government in Canada, the new Canadian prime minister has declared the Canadian contingent will end operations. The Canadians have deployed CF-18s in support of the bombing campaign, and with their removal, the Allied coalition loses a significant supporter. The Russian air campaign has increased dramatically, and includes the deployment of Su-25s, a similar platform to the A-10. While most aircraft currently being used in the campaign are the fast-flying, high-tech 4th and 5th generation fighter aircraft, the low-tech, slow-flying close-air support platforms are more suited for supporting ground operations of the Peshmerga and future western intervention forces.
Originally developed to destroy Warsaw Pact tanks and armored vehicles on the battlefields of Europe, the A-10 became the US Air Force’s signature close-air support aircraft. During Operation Desert Storm, A-10s decimated Iraqi armor formations. In the air war over Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the A-10 again showed its toughness on the battlefield. In one incident an A-10 was hit with a surface-to-air missile, destroying one of its engines and crippling a wing. Despite the damage the A-10 was able to complete its mission and land safely in Macedonia where it was based. As a combat infantryman of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I know and understand the importance of having a versatile close-air support airplane for ground forces. Time and again, A-10s provided much needed air support for us on the battlefield, helping turn the tide in our favor when insurgent forces began gaining an upper hand.
This deployment to Syria may be the last hurrah for the A-10. With the Air Force acquisition of the F-35, close-air support mission will be transferred to that aircraft. Should western ground forces be deployed to destroy ISIS, the A-10 will be an important tool for the military in their campaign.