The aircraft that the Air Force would love to kill is regularly raining death on Islamic State militants, defense officials confirmed.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II has been used almost daily since November to attack Islamic State targets in Iraq, officials told Air Force Times.
In mid-November, several A-10s from the Indiana Air National Guard's 163rd Fighter Squadron along with about 300 airmen were moved from Afghanistan to Southwest Asia to support airstrikes in Iraq.
"While the aircraft is based in the region, we will maximize its employment by using it in support of ground forces in Iraq and bilateral or multilateral training with our partners in the region," Army Lt. Col. Kageleiry, a spokeswoman for Combined Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said in an email.
Both A-10s and AC-130 gunships can also be used to fly combat search and rescue missions for downed pilots, but no such missions have been conducted so far, officials said.
The A-10 deployment is a reversal of sorts for the Air Force. In July, Gen. Michael Hostage, then head of Air Combat Command, said the A-10 no longer was suitable for wars in the Middle East, National Defense magazine reported.
"I can't send an A-10 to Syria. It would never come back," National Defense quoted Hostage as saying.
Faced with deep budget cuts imposed by Congress, the Air Force has been trying to retire the A-10 in favor of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
But several lawmakers are concerned that the F-35 cannot provide close air support to troops as well the A-10, so the most recent spending bill passed by Congress prevents the Air Force from using any fiscal 2015 funding to retire the A-10.
"In deploying the A-10 in the fight against ISIS, the Air Force's own actions demonstrate the continued effectiveness and reliability of the A-10 — as well as the continued need for an aircraft that provides unique and essential close air support capabilities," Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who leads congressional opposition to A-10 divestment, said in a Dec. 18 email to Air Force Times.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., also noted the A-10's role in Iraq.
"The support that the A-10 has in Congress is based on the fact that it is the best close air support aircraft in our fleet and it saves American lives," she wrote in an Dec. 18 email to Air Force Times. "The initiative by the Air Force to retire the plane is based on budgetary restrictions, not on projected needs."
"The support that the A-10 has in Congress is based on the fact that it is the best close air support aircraft in our fleet and it saves American lives," Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., said in an email Thursday to Air Force Times. "The initiative by the Air Force to retire the plane is based on budgetary restrictions, not on projected needs."
Hartzler's congressional district includes Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., home of the 442nd Fighter Wing, which flies A-10s.
"The fact is, there simply is not a viable replacement for the A-10 at this time and sequestration is forcing bad decisions which will endanger our men and women in uniform," she said in her email. "The next Congress has an opportunity to re-prioritize our national security by reversing these onerous cuts and I look forward to helping lead efforts in this regard."
Despite continued resistance from Congress, the Air Force is expected to continue to push to retire the A-10 in fiscal 2016. In August, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told Defense News that the service stood by its analysis of what kind of aircraft the Air Force can afford under congressionally mandated budget cuts.
"If something is the right answer one year, it is probably the right answer the next year," Welsh said. "If you try to change the right answer each year, all you do is run into a different group of resistance."