The Fairchild Republic A-10, the titanium bathtub revered by the US Air Force and congressional members alike, will dodge early retirement for at least five more years, the USAF chief says this week.

The air force will keep the Warthogs through 2021, USAF chief Gen David Goldfein told reporters during a media roundtable. The A-10’s ultimate retirement date will be decided following a discussion with Defense secretary James Mattis, he adds.

“As a mission, we’re fully committed to close air support,” Goldfein says. “We need to move the dialogue in a new direction that starts with how we do business today. Because there’s the reality that this will change significantly.”

While the air force’s official line has set out an A-10 drawdown beginning in 2018 and the final aircraft moving to storage in 2021, service leadership has hinted at a longer life. Last fall, Air Force secretary Deborah Lee James announced the A-10’s retirement would be delayed once again. Earlier that year, Defense secretary Ashton Carter announced continued wing production for the attack plane. The updated Boeing wings could keep the aircraft flying into the 2040s, according to Boeing.

In a late-January interview with FlightGlobal, Air Combat Command chief Gen Herbert Carlisle said the new wings would make the aircraft viable for the foreseeable future as long as the service needs them.

“To some extent we’re going to continue the A-10,” Carlisle says. “We did buy some wings for the A-10, we’re going to keep those into the late 2020s, even into the 2030s.”

Still, those comments come outside of the president’s official budget and the air force will not solidify its position until the fiscal 2018 budget is revealed, an ACC spokesman tells FlightGlobal. Goldfein's announcement this week marks the air force's current position, the spokesman adds.

The USAF’s plan to push off retirement is buttressed by an August report from the Government Accountability Office, which stated the service lacked enough information to support an A-10 divestment. The report criticised the USAF’s plan for full divestment in 2022, warning an earlier divestment could prove risky. The air force’s own documents revealed the loss of A-10 squadrons would outpace the F-35 squadron gain, with eight A-10 squadrons divested by the end of the five-year budget plan but only six F-35 squadrons stood up, the report states.