WASHINGTON — The A-10 Warthog jet has performed 11 percent of US Air Force sorties against the Islamic State militant group, also known as ISIS, according to service figures.
That number was first mentioned by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James during a Jan. 15 address, and confirmed by Air Force press affairs. The 11 percent figure refers to the total number of manned sorties launched by the US Air Force in Iraq and Syria against IS forces since operations began in August.
That total does not include sorties of unmanned systems like the MQ-1 Predator. The Air Force has carried out around 60 percent of the 16,000 total strikes against IS forces. The remaining 40 percent has been carried out by the US Navy and allied nations.
During her speech, James stressed that while the A-10 is playing a crucial role, other aircraft are handling the bulk of the missions.
"There are a number of strike platforms, of course, that are engaged in it," she said. "[The] A-10 is one of it, but there's also F-16s, F-15s, and so forth. They're each contributing."
What's the total breakdown?
According to service figures, the F-16 fighter has been the most used aircraft, with coming in at 41 percent of sorties. That is followed by the F-15E at 37 percent, then the A-10 at 11 percent, the B-1 bomber at eight percent, and the F-22, which saw its first combat operation in the opening salvo against Is forces in Syria last Sept., at 3 percent.
While the A-10 sortie use lags behind its faster cousins, there is an important caveat to that number. The A-10 did not join operations until mid-November, roughly three months after strikes began against IS targets in August. For the A-10 to have hit 11 percent of overall sorties in half the time of the F-16 indicates a high usage rate of the Warthog.
The fact that the A-10 is being used so heavily against ISIS will undoubtedly be raised by those who support keeping the plane, known for its massive 30mm cannon and ability to go low and slow on the ground, from retirement.
But it is also unlikely to sway the Air Force's argument that while it likes the A-10, the funding used for the plane is needed for other priorities.
James was quick to highlight that the A-10 would still be flying today if the service's retirement plan, which called to remove the fleet by 2019, had been approved ok'd by Congress.
"My point is, the A-10 is a great contributor, but so are the other aircraft," James said. "So even had the plan to retire the A-10s over five years, which we've submitted last year, even if that had been agreed to, we would've still had A-10s in our inventory. And so it makes good sense to use them. And so we -- obviously, we always will use them."
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.