A group of senators has thrown cold water on a possible compromise that would remove the A-10 from active service but keep it in a state of near readiness. (Senior Airman Christina D. Ponte / Air Force)
WASHINGTON — A quartet of powerful senators are warning that anything less than keeping the A-10 fully active in the Air Force is unacceptable, a day after a compromise about the retirement of the plane appeared to have been floated by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC).
The HASC markup, released Monday, included language that would block the retirement of the A-10, commonly known as the Warthog, unless the service agreed to keep it in “type-1000” storage at the Davis-Monthan boneyard. Type-1000 storage is the “warmest” storage type, with the planes being kept close to operational levels.
It appeared to be a compromise position from HASC Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, giving the Air Force some of the savings it sought while appeasing proponents of the plane, who are concerned that removing it from the fleet would leave troops on the ground exposed.
In a letter released Tuesday, Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John McCain of Arizona, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia made it clear they view storage of the planes not as a compromise, but as capitulation.
“For the sake of our ground troops in future conflicts, Congress must include a provision in the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act to prohibit the Air Force’s divestment of the A-10,” the senators wrote. “Putting the A-10s in type-1000 storage is not a compromise; it is a codification of the Air Force’s short-sighted and dangerous proposal to divest their most combat-effective and cost-efficient close air support aircraft.
“While we recognize that the Air Force confronts difficult budget decisions, we believe prematurely divesting the A-10 would put our ground troops in serious additional danger in future conflicts. As the NDAA process moves forward, we will continue to look for the right offset that addresses this issue in a comprehensive way.”
Ayotte has been at the forefront of the fight over the A-10, while McCain got into a testy back and forth with top Air Force officials during a hearing last week about how the service intends to replace the platform. Graham is a key ally to both senators and the three often act together on defense issues; Chambliss joined Ayotte and McCain in writing an early April letter in support of the A-10.
The Air Force says it could achieve billions in needed savings if allowed to retire the A-10, known primarily for its role in the close-air support mission for troops on the ground.