A pair of Air Force A-10 combet jets conducts a training mission Dec. 30 over Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center, Ark. The Air Force plans to retire the aircraft, but a U.S. senator has vowed to fight the move. (US Air Force)
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Calling the Air Force’s decision to retire the A-10 combat jet a “serious mistake,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., is pledging to fight the retirement in Congress.
“The Pentagon’s decision to recommend the early retirement of the A-10 before a viable replacement achieves full operational capability is a serious mistake based on poor analyses and bad assumptions,” Ayotte said in a statement. “Instead of cutting its best and least expensive close air support aircraft in an attempt to save money, the Air Force could achieve similar savings elsewhere in its budget without putting our troops at increased risk.”
“As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I plan to work with my colleagues to prevent the Pentagon from making this serious mistake that I believe could cost the lives of our brave servicemen and women in future conflicts,” the statement concluded.
Ayotte has been at the forefront of the fight over the A-10’s future, one that has played out in a very public arena over the last six months.
The A-10 is a much beloved, if aging, platform that performs the close-air support (or “CAS”) mission for troops on the ground. It has been rumored to be on the budget chopping block for months. Air Force officials contend that the CAS mission can be done by other platformsand cutting the Warthog could free up desperately needed funds for other programs.
That line of thinking was echoed in comments made Monday by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who announced the plan to retire the A-10 fleet in a preview of the Pentagon’s 2015 budget request.
“Retiring the A-10 fleet saves $3.5 billion over five years and accelerates the Air Force’s long-standing modernization plan – which called for replacing the A-10s with the more capable F-35 in the early 2020s,” Hagel said, according to a Pentagon transcript.
“The ‘Warthog’ is a venerable platform, and this was a tough decision. But the A-10 is a 40-year-old single-purpose airplane originally designed to kill enemy tanks on a Cold War battlefield. It cannot survive or operate effectively where there are more advanced aircraft or air defenses,” he said.
“Significant savings are only possible through eliminating the entire fleet, because of the fixed cost of maintaining the support apparatus associated with that aircraft,” Hagel concluded. “Keeping a smaller number of A-10s would only delay the inevitable while forcing worse trade-offs elsewhere.”
But defenders of the A-10, including Ayotte, say other platforms are inefficient and would put troops on the ground in harm’s way.
Ayotte, whose husband Joe was an A-10 pilot, has been the most vocal protector of the plane in Congress. In September, she placed a hold the nomination of Deborah Lee James, President Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of the Air Force. Ayotte later released that hold, leading to James’ confirmation, but continued to keep a close eye on the program.
As part of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, Ayotte and her allies inserted language stating the service “may not retire, prepare to retire, or place in storage” any A-10 during the entirety of calendar year 2014. (A-10s that the service planned to retire as of April 9, 2013, will be allowed to retire.)
The New Hampshire Republican later sent a letter to James accusing the Air Force of violating that law via a plan to halt needed upgrades to the A-10. In a Feb. 12 response, Secretary James directed those upgrades to continue.
“As we continue with FY15 budget deliberations, I look forward to discussing the A-10 with you at greater length,” James noted in her response to Ayotte’s claims. Given the senator’s statement, that should be a discussion that we’ll hear a lot more of in the coming months.