Air Force urges Congress to retire A-10 attack planes

Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh said Wednesday that, if lawmakers force the Air Force to keep its fleet of A-10 attack planes, it would be "almost impossible" to achieve its five core missions.

"This is not about the A-10 not being a great airplane...it's about where can we take operational risk going forward," Welsh said at the National Press Club.

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A vocal contingent of lawmakers say it is too soon to retire the A-10s, since the F-35s slated to replace them will not be operational until the 2020s.

But in order to meet its budgets in 2015 and future years, the Air Force says it is necessary to retire the attack aircraft. The A-10s provide ground troops with close air support, but the Air Force says it has other planes that can perform that mission.

Welsh said retiring the A-10s would save the Air Force $4.2 billion.

Alternatives that were looked at included cutting 363 F-16s, the F-15E fleet, or the entire B-1 fleet, delaying F-35 purchases, or grounding squadrons, Welsh said.

"So we looked at all those options. We took each one independently, and we ran through an operational analysis, a very detailed operational analysis...and we came very clearly to the conclusion that of all those horrible options, the least operationally impactful was to divest the A-10 fleet," he said.

"It's not emotional, it's logical, it's analytical. It makes eminent sense from a military perspective if you have to make these kind of cuts. Nobody likes it, not me, nobody," said Welsh, a former A-10 pilot. 

His remarks come as the House Armed Services Committee prepares to mark up the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act next week, which could require the Air Force to keep the fleet.