The depot line for the A-10 Thunderbolt is cranking back up as part of an effort to keep the Cold War-era aircraft flying “indefinitely,” a general said.
Depot maintenance for the popular close-air-support aircraft, popularly known as the Warthog, has been “fully reopened,” Air Force Materiel Command chief Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski told Aviation Week on Monday.
“They have re-geared up, we’ve turned on the depot line, we’re building it back up in capacity and supply chain,” Pawlikowski said. “Our command, anyway, is approaching this as another airplane that we are sustaining indefinitely.”
Pawlikowski also told the magazine that Air Force maintainers are gearing up to replace the Warthog’s wings, dipping into a $2 billion Boeing contract originally awarded in 2007, according to Popular Mechanics. The contract was intended to upgrade the A-10 when the plan was to keep the aircraft flying until 2028.
Like any decades-old aircraft, the A-10 has experienced corrosion, which is to be expected, Pawlikowski said. The majority of the maintenance work for the 283-aircraft fleet is conducted at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
Air Force Material Command did not respond to Military.com’s additional request for comment on Friday.
Air Combat Command commander Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle last November predicted the plane would be around a few years longer than the Air Force anticipated.
“I think we would probably move the retirement slightly to the right,” Carlisle told defense reporters at the time. “Eventually we will have to get there. We have to retire airplanes. But I think moving it to the right and starting it a bit later and keeping the airplane a bit longer is something to consider, based on things as they are today and what we see in the future.”
In February, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the retirement would be delayed until 2022 after officials opined the Air Force was prematurely ridding the U.S. military of a “valuable and effective” aircraft.
However, fiscal 2017 budget documents revealed the Air Force is still hoping to remove A-10 squadrons in increments between 2018 and 2022 in order to make room for F-35A Lightning II squadrons coming online.
The decision further angered enthusiasts of the plane and a few congressional members, such as Arizona Republicans Sen. John McCain, a former Navy pilot, and Rep. Martha McSally, who flew A-10s during her Air Force career.
McSally has since stipulated a fly-off between the A-10 and F-35 is crucial not only to ensure the validity of the A-10, but also to confirm the F-35 itself isn’t a hazard to troops on the battlefield.
“In this year’s defense authorization bill, I successfully advocated for inclusion of a provision mandating a fly-off between the F-35 and A-10 before one more A-10 can be retired. This legislation, which included my provision, passed the House Armed Services Committee on a 60-2 vote, and passed the House with strong bipartisan support,” McSally wrote in June for an Op-Ed published in Air Force Times.
“Right now, the A-10 is deployed to four theaters — in the fight against ISIS, in Europe as a response to Russian aggression, along the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea, and in the Philippines — showing the high demand for its abilities.
“With American lives at stake, we don’t have room for error. We must base our decisions about critical life-saving missions on assessments of capabilities and risks, not speculation,” she said.
While many an A-10 enthusiast would like to see the planes flying “indefinitely,” the general probably means “into the foreseeable future.”