TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — The two Republican U.S. senators from Arizona visited four military installations in the state on Thursday and offered assurances that the installations will play a key role in national defense in the future.
During a visit to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, McCain said the future of the A-10 Warthog, an attack aircraft, is safe despite Air Force calls that it be retired to free up money for the F-35, a more modern and expensive fighter jet.
Davis-Monthan has more than 80 active A-10 planes, said Capt. Casey Osborne, a spokesman for the 355th Fighter Wing at the base.
"The A-10 is the most capable air-to-ground weapon system that is in the entire inventory," McCain said. "I think they will be with us for an extended period of time."
Congress last week sent President Barack Obama a massive defense policy bill that, among many things, would prohibit the retirement of the A-10.
McCain, who will soon become chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been critical of the F-35 and its hefty price tag.
He also delivered reassurance when asked about the future of Fort Huachuca, an Army intelligence center near Sierra Vista.
He said the facility has the Army's only training facility for drones and more than 13,000 Army personnel train there annually.
"Frankly I see nothing but expansion for Fort Huachuca in the future because of the type of warfare that we are engaged in against radical Islam, ISIS and al-Qaida," McCain said.
The Army has proposed cutting up to 2,700 military and civilian jobs at Fort Huachuca over the next five years. The base is the largest employer in Cochise County and many believe job cuts would be detrimental to the southern Arizona economy.
McCain said the massive hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. is an example of why the U.S. needs to beef up its military intelligence operations such as those at Fort Huachuca.
"Electronic warfare is one of the key elements of one of the new challenges we face, and Fort Huachuca is the place where the training and the work is being done," he said.
McCain was accompanied on the visits by Sen. Jeff Flake. Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican who represents parts of Phoenix and the western state, also attended the visit in Tucson.