By Blake Neff - 04/10/14 02:17 PM EDT
Even modest increases to the Air Force budget wouldn't save the A-10 Thunderbolt II from retirement, the force's second-in-command said on Thursday.
Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Larry Spencer told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness that if the Air Force received a small boost to its 2015 budget, it would rather divert the funds to other priorities.
Spencer was responding to a series of questions from Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.). Barber has been sharply critical of efforts to retire the A-10, and on Thursday accused the Air Force of deliberately trying to evade Congressional demands that the A-10 be maintained. Barber said the Air Force had canceled modernizations of the A-10 and did not allot needed weapons training hours, despite Congressional demands in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act that no preparatory action be undertaken to phase out the A-10.
Spencer denied the claims and said he did not know where they originated.
The Air Force has pushed to eliminate its 283 A-10s as a measure that would save $3.7 billion over the next five years. Such a push has been made more than once before, but each time has been blocked by a defiant Congress. Congressmen object that the Air Force doesn't yet have a replacement craft capable of fulfilling the A-10's close air support role equally well.
Spencer defended the Air Force's reasoning, pointing out that even if the A-10 had unique abilities, it was hardly exceptional in that regard.
"Close air support is a game changer, [but] we have a lot of game changers...air superiority is a game changer, so no one can drop bombs on our folks. Command and control is a game changer."
Spencer also said that retiring the A-10 did not mean the U.S. was abandoning close air support as a tactic.
"We're not walking away from the mission at all," Spencer said. "We have multiple aircraft that can perform that mission."
He said, however, that if Congress specifically allocated money for the A-10's preservation, the Air Force would keep it in service.