Originally posted December 15, 2014.
The House Armed Services Committee voted to adopt an amendment that keeps the Air Force’s contentious A-10 “Warthog” aircraft flying through the next fiscal year.
The amendment passed through committee late Wednesday with a 41-20 bipartisan vote. It will be funded by moving $635 million over to the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which pays for the war in Afghanistan, where the A-10 has been used for years to support ground troops.
“There’s no other fixed-wing aircraft that can do the job the A-10 can do,” Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., who proposed the amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, said late Wednesday.
In addition to continuing funding and operations through the next fiscal year, Barber’s amendment also calls for the Government Accountability Office to study the best platform the Air Force should use for its close air support missions.
Air Force officials said the plan to cut more than 300 A-10s would save the service almost $4 billion.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., again directed heated questions to both the Army and Air Force about retiring the A-10s. “I find it curious that you come over here with all the necessity for cost savings and the A-10 cost for flying hour is $17,000 per flying hour,” McCain said. “Fact is that the B-1 is much more expensive, it flies at high-altitude, and it attacks static targets. That does not fulfill the mission of close air support as I know it.”
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh replied that the F-16, not the B-1, is the primary replacement for the A-10 on the battlefield. “It’s already done more close air support in Afghanistan than the A-10 has, and it will work with other aircraft if the scenario allows it to provide the best possible close air support for our troops on the ground,” Welsh said. “We are absolutely committed to it. We have been, and we will remain so.”
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You’d think the Air Force would want to keep the A-10 around, and Underwood concedes “it’s a very effective system,” but time is taking its toll.
“It’s getting older and more expensive to maintain, and that’s the problem,” he says.
Pentagon brass, including outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, would like to retire the jet by 2019. But the A-10 has key supporters in Congress, including McCain and New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte (whose husband Joe flew the A-10 in Iraq). They argue there simply isn’t yet an adequate replacement. Not so, say those calling for the A-10’s retirement. The F-35 isn’t quite ready for battle, but they insist planes like the F-16 and the F-15E are up to the task.
That may be, but nothing elicits the same admiration for the Warthog, which is so ugly as to be beautiful, a machine designed to take no end of punishment even as it punishes those stand in its way. “Its ugliness makes it endearing,” Underwood says.
Unless you’re on the receiving end of that 30mm cannon.