Ayotte: Air Force's retirement of A-10 aircraft would violate law

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) says the Air Force, by preparing to retire A-10 aircraft, would run afoul of current law.

Air Force officials have said the service is considering retiring the A-10 Thunderbolt fleet and other single-mission aircraft in order to grapple with budget cuts.

But Ayotte and other lawmakers included language in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that states the Air Force “may not retire, prepare to retire or place in storage” any additional A-10 "Warthogs" in 2014.

“It has come to my attention that the Air Force may be taking steps to prepare to retire the A-10 in violation of current law,” Ayotte wrote in a letter Friday to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.

The letter, obtained by The Hill, cites reports that the Air Combatant Command has issued orders to stop software upgrades on the A-10 that will be needed to operate in contested areas.

The software upgrades are designed to help pilots identify friends and foes, and are apparently supposed to be added by 2015, Ayotte said.

Ayotte said the Air Force was taking steps to retire the A-10 fleet, which is used for close air support, “before Congress has had a chance to receive and scrutinize the Department of Defense’s fiscal year 2015 budget request as it relates to the A-10.”

The A-10 budget fight is one of the biggest disputes between Congress and the Pentagon heading into the 2015 budget proposal, which will be released on March 4.

Ayotte and other lawmakers friendly to the attack aircraft are trying to preemptively stop the Air Force from cutting the planes.

Ayotte, whose husband was an A-10 pilot, has argued that the Pentagon hasn’t proven that other planes would be able to effectively carry out the A-10 close air support mission.

The Air Force has said that budget realities may not be able to keep single-mission planes flying.

“I love the airplane. I have a thousand hours flying it. It is the best airplane in the world at what it does,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told the House Armed Services Committee last fall.

“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.”