When the Indiana Air National Guard’s 163rd Fighter Squadron ‘Blacksnakes’ deployed to Central Command (CENTCOM) in 2014, it was to underscore the usefulness of the A-10 to senior leaders at a time when the type was under real threat of mass extinction, writes Combat Aircraft editor Jamie Hunter in our new May issue, on sale now.
The squadron departed its home base at Fort Wayne bound for the Middle East in October 2014 amid rising tensions in Iraq with the emergence of so-called Islamic State (IS). ‘At first we were supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf region as a Theater Security Package in Kuwait to adopt an on-call stance for six months, but we were immediately re-tasked to go to join the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagram, Afghanistan, to cover the US Army withdrawal from forward operating bases [FOBs],’ Col Bill Leahy exclusively told Combat Aircraft. Leahy is now the commander of the 122nd Operations Group at Fort Wayne, but back then he led the 163rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (EFS) into combat. ‘Fortunately the deployment to Afghanistan for 30-ish days [in support of Operation ‘Enduring Freedom’] was fairly quiet — the army did a good job of planning their withdrawal and they were able to get their equipment out of the FOBs with hardly a shot being fired.’
Back home, pressure was on the US Air Force to step up its involvement in the expanding Operation ‘Inherent Resolve’ (OIR) mission in Iraq and Syria. Despite having ‘Blacksnakes’ A-10s in the region; a seemingly perfect fit for the type of close air support (CAS) missions being flown against IS, the USAF — including the then chief of staff Gen Mark Welsh — was pushing hard to remove the ‘Warthog’ from its ranks to help free up precious funds for the F-35 program. Fiscal Year 2015 spending plans stopped that in its tracks as it included House and Senate Armed Services Committee stipulations that essentially halted efforts to retire the A-10 fleet as lawmakers effectively blocked any such move. It was a perfect storm that in part saved the A-10 in a very dynamic way.
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