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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force is shelving plans to retire the aging A-10 "Warthog" aircraft, a heavily armored tank killer, because of its role in the fight against Islamic State, online publication Defense One reported on Wednesday, citing unnamed Pentagon officials.
The 40-year-old ground attack aircraft is popular with soldiers, Marines - and some U.S. lawmakers.
Defense One quoted the Air Force officials as saying that, while the A-10 would still need to be retired, the service would put aside immediate plans to take it out of service because of the important role it is playing in combating Islamic State.
Due to its armor, the slow-moving A-10 can withstand ground fire while loitering for long periods over a battlefield, spraying 30mm armor-piercing, depleted-uranium cannon rounds at tanks and other targets.
Influential U.S. Senator John McCain welcomed the news.
“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, the who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement, using an acronym for Islamic State.
The Arizona senator, a former U.S. Navy pilot, and other lawmakers have previously vowed to save the A-10.
“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,” McCain added.
An Air Force spokeswoman said there was "no information at this time" on plans to delay the A-10's retirement and said details on the fiscal year 2017 budget would be released in February.
The Air Force has been seeking to retire the "Warthog" to save money and free up people to learn how to maintain the new F-35 joint strike fighter.
The A-10 was produced by Fairchild Republic Company, now a unit of Northrop Grumman Corp.
Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Jonathan Oatis