WASHINGTON, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- A group of A-10 Thunderbolt fighter jets has arrived in the Middle East where they will be used to halt the spread of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
The A-10s, or Warthogs, are currently the center of Washington debate -- senior defense officials want to retire the 283 remaining A-10s to save nearly $4 billion, while many feel such a move would cut off one of the military's more powerful tools.
"They're going over there because there's a need ... to be postured for a combat rescue mission," Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Cassidy explained to Stars and Stripes.
Although slow and low flying, A-10s can transport and deploy massive amounts of fire power to support combat troops on the ground. The planes have armored bellies to protect pilots from ground fire, and can be armed with a 30mm Gatling cannon and a variety of bombs, missiles and other explosives.
Military officials have not confirmed how many A-10s have been deployed to fight the Islamic State or to what region specifically they were sent, only confirming the "squadron sized group" was part of the 163rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, known as the "Blacksnakes."
"While they're there we will maximize their use."