The USAF A/OA-10 Warthog performs a fly by over the beaches of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.,during the McDonald's Air and Sea Show in 2006. File Photo by Joe Marino-Bill Cantrell/UPI | License Photo
ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 12 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force confirmed the recent deployment of A-10 Warthogs in operations against Islamic State militants in Syria but noted the aircraft's use has been limited, partly due to its vulnerability.
The tank-killing attack plane has seen service in Iraq since last year, but Air Force Central Command confirmed today that the A-10 has also been used in a "few dozen" missions in Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led international bombing campaign against IS.
Speaking Thursday at the Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., Herbert J. "Hawk" Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command, said the use of the A-10 in Syria has been extremely limited because of several factors.
Range was an issue, Carlisle said, "because it's a long way from where they're stationed." But speed is also a problem in what the general called a "contested environment," where the A-10 is "significantly more vulnerable" than other aircraft, such as the F-22, F-15, F-16 and F-18 fighters.
"A Jordanian got shot down in Syria -- which was tragic -- and so that is a contested environment," he said, referring to F-16 pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, who was burned alive by his IS captors earlier this year.
"There's been parts of the country that are more contested than others," Carlisle said. "There's not a line where we say, you know, don't go here. There's operational planning, and we use assets to the best of their ability."
Another problem is ground forces. Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi military are engaging IS in Iraq, but the United States has less definable allies in Syria. "Who we're working with on the ground is different in those two different places, and our ability to interact with some is different than others, which, again, lends you to pick an aircraft for different missions and different areas of the conflict," Carlisle said.
The A-10 has been a focus of controversy as the Air Force has moved toward replacing the decades-old aircraft with the newer F-35 joint strike fighter. Data released by the Air Force indicated the A-10 was responsible for the highest number of friendly-fire deaths in history, but a government watchdog group known as the Project On Government Oversight said earlier this week that the figures were inaccurate due to skewed time frames.
POGO accused the Air Force of doctoring the numbers to support the A-10's retirement, but the Air Force argued the data are the most accurate and up-to-date available.
Carlisle said that while the A-10 was a fantastic airplane, military leaders were in the process of considering a possible alternative for the vital mission of close air support for ground forces in the future.
Army, Marine Corps and Air Force leaders are scheduled to meet in March to discuss the matter.