The Air Force is desperately trying to retire the A-10 jet aircraft, and lawmakers are desperately trying to push back.
On Monday, Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters from Michigan sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense arguing not only that the A-10 should receive full funding, but no further steps should be taken to move planes into backup status.
The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes a provision allowing for the Air Force to move up to 36 A-10s into what’s called “backup status, and so far 18 have been slotted into that category. According to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James, the only reason the service didn’t go ahead and move all 36 at once was out of respect for Congress. It is expected, however, that all 36 will be sidelined by the end of the year. (RELATED: Congress Fights Against Subtle Move To Sideline 18 A-10s From Service)
Under the 2015 NDAA, the Air Force is also allowed to transfer A-10 maintenance personnel over to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
What Stabenow and Peters have in mind is protecting the current operations of the Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which happens to be located in Michigan. The base employs 4,000 full-time military and civilian personnel, and injects hundreds of millions into the economy. Around 20 A-10s are stationed at the base. But aside from economic considerations, Stabenow and Peters argued that early retirement just doesn’t make sense given the extensive employment of the A-10 in Eastern Europe and against the Islamic State group.
The Air Force has proposed to send eight KC-135 refueling planes to replace the A-10s at the Michigan base.
While leaders have pointed to $4 billion in savings as the impetus for sidelining the A-10, the Air Force recently invested $1 billion dollars in upgrades to make the A-10 last until at least 2028.
Additionally, in early March, head of Air Combat Command Gen. Hawk Carlisle stated that no next-generation aircraft exists to replace the much-needed close-air support capabilities of the A-10. Still, leaders from all branches of the military agree that the A-10’s time is long over and needs to be retired. (RELATED: Air Force Has No Idea What Will Replace The A-10)
According to The Washington Times, the Joint Terminal Attack Controllers in November of 2014 sent then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel a letter, saying that existing aircraft will not be able to stand-in for the A-10 effectively. “F-15s, F-16s, and B-1s cannot replicate the CAS capabilities of the A-10, and we know from combat experience that the elimination of the A-10 before a viable replacement achieves full operational capability will cost American lives.”
Republican legislators tend to be similarly opposed to the Air Force’s campaign. GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, leading a group of Republicans, sent a letter on March 27 to the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committee that asked leaders not to allow the Air Force to pursue its “premature, misguided, and dangerous divestment of the A-10.” Ayotte wants to make certain that the 2016 defense policy bill does not let the Air Force ground the A-10, and so recommended that $737 million dollars be authorized for maintaining the fleet.
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