A senior U.S. military official says the rise of the extremist Islamic State (IS) group and a "resurgent Russia" prompted the U.S. Air Force to reconsider plans to retire a fleet of aging ground-attack jets.
Air Force officials have been trying for the past two years to retire the A-10 Warthog jet fighter, which has been deployed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more recently against IS militants in Syria.
But Air Force Vice Chief of Staff General David Goldfein says plans to shelve the Warthog immediately have been delayed due to the emergence of IS and an emboldened Russia, which annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and has backed armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
"What happens is that life gets in the way of the perfect plan," Goldfein told Defense News With Vago Muradian in an interview scheduled for broadcast on January 24, the website Defense News reported.
"So when we made the decision on retiring the A-10, we made those decisions prior to ISIL. We were not in Iraq. We were coming out of Afghanistan to a large extent. We didn't have a resurgent Russia," Goldfein added, using an alternate acronym for the Islamic State group.
In use by the U.S. Air Force since 1975, the low-flying Warthog is a heavily armored ground-attack aircraft that is capable of withstanding ground fire for long periods over a battlefield.
Plans to retire the aircraft are aimed at saving money and freeing up personnel for maintenance work on the new F-35 joint strike fighter.
The website Defense One first reported last week about plans to delay the immediate retirement of the Warthogs.
It cited unnamed Pentagon officials as saying that the aircraft would be kept in use due to its effectiveness in combating IS forces.
U.S. Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona), a vociferous Kremlin critic, welcomed the decision following the Defense One report.
"Today, the A-10 fleet is playing an indispensable role in the fight against ISIL in Iraq and assisting NATO's efforts to deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe," McCain said in a statement after the report was published.
The U.S. Air Force deployed 12 Warthog aircraft in an April 2015 military exercise in Romania that Air Force General Darryl Roberson said was aimed at reassuring Eastern European countries concerned about Russia's military role in Ukraine and its aggression in the region.
With reporting by Defense News, CNN, Reuters, and Defense One