In yet another sign that the Middle East is becoming less of a priority for the United States, A-10 Thunderbolt II attack planes will replace the more advanced American combat aircraft being relocated from that region to Europe and the Pacific. While the A-10, also referred to as the “Warthog,” is a formidable attack aircraft with unique capabilities that make it ideal for close air support, it may not ultimately prove to be the aircraft the U.S. presently needs in that part of the world.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to break the story. Its report quoted retired U.S. Air Force (USAF) major general Larry Stutzriem insisting that the A-10 remains “relevant to the mission CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) flies over the Middle East.”

The plan is scheduled for April and is part of a broader strategy of retaining a more modest American ground and naval presence in the volatile region to free up more resources for countering Russia and China. Critics quoted in the report argue that deploying A-10s in place of more advanced aircraft, the report described the Warthog as “aging,” could weaken the U.S. military presence in the region. Such assessments may ultimately prove correct.

Simply nicknamed the “tanker killer,” the A-10 excelled at destroying Iraqi armor and hunting for mobile Scud missile launchers during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The plane can operate from much more rugged, or even makeshift runways than more advanced fighters like the F-16 require. In Afghanistan, the A-10 played an essential role in providing troops with close air support in close-quarters firefights. The armored attack plane can fly low and within visual range of enemy ground forces and strafe them with its powerful Avenger cannon, which can spit out approximately 4,000 rounds a minute.

The U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021, and there have been indications that the A-10 is not the best-suited aircraft for the conflicts the U.S. has fought in the Middle East over the past decade.


For one, the Warthog is not a supersonic aircraft and doesn’t have the range of strategic bombers such as the B-52 Stratofortress or more modern B-1 Lancer. And while these aircraft are not nearly as suitable for providing close air support, the B-1, nevertheless, proved crucial for supporting Syrian Kurdish fighters fending off a ferocious ISIS siege on the border town of Kobani in 2014. During that siege, Turkey denied the U.S. authorization to use the strategically-important southeastern Incirlik airbase for launching airstrikes against ISIS. Consequently, the B-1s had to fly from the Persian Gulf to provide air support at ranges the A-10 could not without substantive midair refueling. That episode demonstrated the limited usefulness of the A-10 when it comes to long-range, over-the-horizon missions.

On the other hand, when Turkey finally authorized U.S. flights from Incirlik, A-10s flew an impressive 1,600 sorties against 2,500 targets. A mere 12 A-10s from the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron struck 44 percent of all targets in Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS, a feat which won that squadron the prestigious Gallant Unit Citation.

While the A-10 has a limited, secondary air-to-air capability, it shot down two Iraqi helicopters during the Gulf War, it’s highly unlikely it can deter enemy fighter jets. In August 2016, in Syria, USAF F-22 Raptors forced Syrian Su-24 bombers to abort a mission against Kurdish forces in Hasaka city. In June 2017, a U.S. Navy F/A-18E Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22 Fitter after it targeted allied Kurdish troops. That engagement was the first time a U.S. fighter splashed an enemy fighter since the 1999 Kosovo campaign. Such jets are needed to deter Syrian and Russian warplanes. In March, Russian jets flew directly over the U.S. Al Tanf Garrison in southern Syria almost every single day of the month.

The A-10 was conspicuously absent on Feb. 7, 2018. On that day, U.S. commandos in eastern Syria came under artillery fire from an attacking force consisting of hundreds of pro-regime Syrian militiamen and Russian mercenaries. During the ensuing Battle of Khasham, they received abundant air support. Everything from F-22s and F-15E Strike Eagles to AC-130 gunships and B-52s, and even AH-64 Apache helicopters and MQ-9 Reaper drones, swooped in to the rescue and pulverized the attackers — the relentless airstrikes left 200-300 of them dead and no American casualties.

U.S. troops in Syria have also been repeatedly targeted by drones, mainly single-use loitering munitions launched by Iran-backed militias. On Mar. 23, one such loitering munition killed an American contractor and injured five service members at a base near Hasaka. The U.S. swiftly retaliated with precision airstrikes using F-15Es flying from the enormous al-Udeid airbase in Qatar.

Keeping such fast jets in the region will remain essential so long as the U.S. maintains its modest 900-member troop presence in Syria. Jets like the F-15 and F-22 are much better at deterring adversaries on the ground and in the air than the slower A-10. Furthermore, A-10s can only effectively protect those troops in Syria if they are deployed in neighboring Jordan or Turkey’s Incirlik (the latter of which has proven notoriously unreliable over the decades) rather than the Gulf.

Politically, deploying A-10s to the Middle East in the place of modern fighters vacating the region will hardly inspire much confidence from regional U.S. allies. Following the January 2022 drone and missile attacks against Abu Dhabi, the USAF rapidly deployed F-22s to Al Dhafra Air Base as a demonstration of U.S. support for the security of the United Arab Emirates. The Emiratis, however, were still not reassured.

Sending A-10s – aircraft the USAF openly hopes to fully retire by 2029 – in the place of fifth-generation jets like the F-22 will almost certainly not be seen by such regional allies as a sign of an enduring American military commitment to the region and their security.