As predicted by Air Combat Command commander Gen. Hawk Carlisle in November, the Air Force is indefinitely freezing all plans to retire the A-10 Warthog, a warplane many officials, airmen and congressional members have rallied behind since the announcement of its withdrawal from the battlefield.
Service officials next month will lay out their new request when the Pentagon submits its fiscal 2017 budget request to Congress, DefenseOne reports.
The Air Force in a statement told Air Force Times Wednesday they could not discuss the budget request until it is presented to Congress.
"It appears the administration is finally coming to its senses and recognizing the importance of A-10s to our troops' lives and national security," Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., said in a statement Wednesday in response to the news reports. McSally is a retired colonel who served 26 years in the Air Force and was the first female pilot to fly in combat.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., another A-10 advocate, echoed McSally's sentiments.
"With growing global chaos and turmoil on the rise, we simply cannot afford to prematurely retire the best close air support weapon in our arsenal without fielding a proper replacement," he said in a statement.
For months, leaders have been saying the retirement of the A-10 comes at an improper time because the planes are still needed to fight global threats such as the Islamic State group.
"I think we would probably move the retirement slightly to the right," Carlisle said on Nov. 10. "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."
While the decision ultimately lies with Pentagon leadership, Carlisle said that he believes the retirement of the A-10 could be delayed by a few years to make sure the Air Force has the number of planes it needs — especially since top brass is re-evaluating the number of F-35's (planes intended to replace the A-10) that the U.S. will purchase.
"If I have them, I'm going to use them because they're a fantastic airplane, and I'm going to take advantage of them," Carlisle said. "The pilots are incredibly well-trained and they do incredible work in support of the joint war fight."
In October, the U.S. sent 12 A-10s to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, to replace six F-16s that had been flying combat missions against the Islamic State group since August.
Amid rising tensions with Russia, the Air Force deployed 12 A-10s to Europe in February as part of the service's first theater-security package to the continent.
"We used that theater-security package to fulfill training requirements with as many of our allies as possible, particularly in light of OAR [Operation Atlantic Resolve] and the assurance that we were trying to do," Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, told Air Force Times last month.
"With A-10s deployed in the Middle East to fight ISIS, in Europe to deter Russian aggression, and along the Korean Peninsula, administration officials can no longer deny how invaluable these planes are to our arsenal and military capabilities," McSally said.