Designed for close-air support

This is not your typical military battle. No weapons will be fired, and no troops deployed. This is a budget battle.

In an effort to trim spending, the Air Force is planning to retire hundreds of Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, better known as the "Warthog," a move that will save the Air Force more than $3.7 billion by 2020. It is all part of a congressional mandate which aims to cut $50 billion from the Air Force budget over the next five years, just a small part of the more than $500 billion in planned cuts to the Pentagon budget over the next 10 years.

Designed solely for close-air support of ground forces, the A-10 was built to attack tanks, armored vehicles, and other ground targets with limited air defenses. Critics of the Warthog cancellation say it is a militarily misguided plan, one which ditches an effective, combat-proven plane just to save money for the far more expensive and unproven F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter.

The A-10 Thunderbolt II is the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close-air support of ground forces. And perhaps a shift from the A-10 may signal an increasing reluctance for ground operations and toward rapid-response strategic strikes.

Take a look at the A-10 Thunderbolt II Warthog through the years.
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Photo by: US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis / Caption by:

A-10 Thunderbolt in flight

Here we see an A-10 Thunderbolt in flight in the 1970s. The Warthog's first flight was on May 10, 1972, and it was officially introduced in March 1977. Though slow, the A-10 became known as a highly maneuverable, accurate weapons platform that is the bane of enemy ground forces.
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Photo by: US Air Force photo / Caption by:

Warthogs in flight

During a training exercise over Razorback Range at Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center in Arkansas on June 4, 2012, Lt. Col. Brian Burger fires off a flare while banking into a high-angle firing position.
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Photo by: US Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Ben Bloker / Caption by:

A-10 in Yugoslavia

Here, an A-10 Thunderbolt II takes off on a mission against targets in Yugoslavia during the NATO bombing against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War in late 1999.

The A-10 and OA-10 Thunderbolt IIs were the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close-air support of ground forces, with a unique tank-stopping nose cannon which fires nearly 4,000 rounds a minute.

The Warthog is simple and effective at its close-air support duties, able to be used against virtually any target on the ground, including tanks and other armored vehicles. General Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force chief of staff, said other aircraft -- F-16s, B-1s, and B-52s -- provide roughly 75 percent of the close-air support in Afghanistan today. “We have a lot of airplanes that can perform that mission and perform it well,” he said.
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Photo by: US Air Force photo/SRA JEFFREY ALLEN / Caption by:

A-10 during a refueling mission

Here, Col. Jon Mott of the Massachusetts Air National Guard's 104 Fighter Wing breaks the record for the most documented hours in an A-10 Thunderbolt II during a refueling mission March 30, 2013, logging more than 4,570 hours in the A-10.
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Photo by: US Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Melanie Norman / Caption by:

A-10s during Operation Iraqi Freedom

Here, a row of A-10 Thunderbolt IIs wait at the Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq for their missions. These aircraft are part of the 442nd Fighter Wing from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, which was deployed to Talli and Kirkuk Air Bases in 2003.
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Photo by: US Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Terry L. Blevins / Caption by:

Close-air support training

The Warthog is know throughout the Air Force as one of the most effective close-air support tools available. Here, an A-10C Thunderbolt II with the 188th Fighter Wing, Arkansas Air National Guard conducts close-air support training November 21, 2013, near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.
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Photo by: US Air Force photo/Jim Haseltine / Caption by:

A-10s from the 52nd Fighter Wing

Following a refueling during a NATO Operation Allied Force combat mission, two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdhalem Air Base, Germany, drop away from a refueling tanker.
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Photo by: US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis / Caption by:

52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron

Warthogs from the 52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy in the 1990s during the Kosovo War are seen here during a NATO Operation Allied Force mission.
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Photo by: US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis / Caption by:

Firepower demonstration at the Nevada Test and Training Range

A pair of A-10 Thunderbolts are seen here during a US Air Force firepower demonstration at the Nevada Test and Training Range on September 14, 2007 near Indian Springs, Nevada.
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Photo by: Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images / Caption by:

Maryland Air National Guard 175th Fighter Wing

Two A-10s are seen here, deployed from the Maryland Air National Guard 175th Fighter Wing on June 13, 2003.
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Photo by: US Air Force / Caption by:
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