The A-10 and the Global Hawk have received protective language in the National Defense Authorization Act. (Air Force)
WASHINGTON — Proponents of the A-10 close air support aircraft have inserted language into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that should protect the plane through the end of 2014.
Section 143 of the bill also protects Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV from further cuts, the latest blow to Air Force attempts to divest itself of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform.
The language prohibits that any funds appropriated by the NDAA “or otherwise made available for fiscal year 2014 for the Department of Defense may be obligated or expended to make significant changes to manning levels with respect to covered aircraft or to retire, prepare to retire, or place in storage a covered aircraft.”
In plain terms, that means that if the NDAA passes as is, the Air Force will be unable to spend any money to prepare to divest itself of either the A-10 or the RQ-4 for fiscal 2014. To drive the point home, further language stipulates that the same rule applies to the A-10 through the end of calendar 2014 as well, ensuring that the first three months of fiscal 2015 are covered as well.
There is one exception: A-10s that the service planned to retire as of April 9, 2013 will be allowed to retire. But otherwise, any wholesale attempts to divest the A-10 will be halted by this language.
That’s a potential blow to the Air Force, which has maintained a stance for months that removing entire platforms from the fleet is the only way to achieve savings needed under the sequestered budget.
But the A-10 has become a lightning rod in Congress, most notably with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., holding up the nomination of Deborah Lee James to be Air Force secretary over concerns that the A-10 may be cut.
Speaking Wednesday at the American Enterprise Institute, Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, expressed frustrations with what he called a “strange situation.”
“I find myself arguing to get rid of things that I don’t want to get rid of to pay a bill we’ve been handed, and the people telling me I can’t give up anything to pay it are the people who gave us the bill,” said Welsh, a former A-10 pilot himself. “You can’t continue to defend everything and pay a $1.3 trillion bill. It won’t work.”
While the A-10 may be the most visible platform the Air Force wishes to divest, an older battle over the RQ-4 continues.
In 2012, the service attempted to kill the Global Hawk in favor of its older U-2 platform. But Congress intervened, protecting the unmanned system. It appears poised to do so again.
The same language that protects the A-10 during fiscal 2014 applies to the Global Hawk. The NDAA as written also requires the secretary of defense to file a report on “all high-altitude airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems operated, or planned for future operation” to the Armed Services, Appropriations and Intelligence committees of the House and Senate.
That report, due 180 days after passage of the NDAA, will include details on capabilities, cost-per-flying-hour, and planned upgrades for all high-altitude ISR systems, along with other relevant information.