By Jeremy Herb
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has placed a hold on the confirmation of Air Force Secretary nominee Deborah Lee James over the Air Force’s potential retirement of the entire A-10 fleet.
An aide to Ayotte said the senator has placed a hold on James’s nomination so she can get her questions answered about why the Air Force would consider divesting its A-10 fleet.
Ayotte views the possible cut as a readiness issue and is concerned over whether there is a valid replacement for the A-10, the aide said.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told a congressional panel last week that the Air Force is contemplating cutting entire fleets, including the A-10, that perform single missions, in order to grapple with potential budget cuts under sequestration.
“I love the airplane. I have a thousand hours flying it. It is the best airplane in the world at what it does,” Welsh told the House Armed Services Committee.
“If we're going to look at what we must divest, not what we want to divest, but what we must divest, we have to be very honest with ourselves inside the Air Force about how much we can afford,” he added.
“And if we have platforms that can do multiple missions well and maybe not do one as well as another airplane, but the airplane that is limited to a specific type of mission area, becomes the one most at risk.”
At James's confirmation hearing last week, Ayotte pressed the Air Force nominee on the A-10 and whether a decision had been made to divest the entire fleet.
“One of the concerns that I have is that I was given a slide, I believe, that came from Air Combat Command that actually says that the A-10 fleet would be divested by FY15 on this slide,” Ayotte said.
“I'm not sure why these types of slides would be put out there by Air Combat Command if this decision hadn't already been made.”
James responded that she didn’t know of any decision being made.
“To the best of my knowledge, there is no decision on divesting A-10s or anything else for that matter. Because all of this is pre-decisional,” she said.
The hold on James’s nomination, which was first reported by Defense News, delays what had appeared to be a confirmation with little opposition.
James, who was nominated Aug. 1, would be the second female Air Force secretary if confirmed. She is currently president of the technology and engineering sector at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).