By Martin Matishak - 05/07/14 06:00 AM EDT
The Air Force’s effort to retire its beloved A-10 Thunderbolt fleet took another blow on Tuesday as GOP senators rejected a proposed House compromise that would have put the aircraft into storage.
The concession, floated on Monday by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) in his mark of the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, would put the entire 283-plane fleet into “type-1000” storage, from which the Air Force could quickly reactivate it if needed.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), though, said the decision to put the plane, which troops affectionately call the “Warthog,” in storage was a “terrible decision.”
“There is no substitute for the A-10 any time soon,” he added.
The opposition of top GOP senators was the latest setback to the Air Force’s push to retire the A-10 and save $3.5 billion over five years, with lawmakers in both parties already reluctant to sign on.
Despite the backing of the Pentagon, other service chiefs haven’t helped the Air Force’s cause on Capitol Hill.
On Tuesday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told lawmakers that soldiers “believe” in the A-10 and don’t want to see it retired during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Air Force officials have argued that the aircraft’s close air support mission can be carried out by other platforms, including the F-16 fighter and the B-1 bomber.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has openly mocked the idea of replacing the Warthog’s close air support role with the B-1, arguing that the bomber costs $54,000 per flying hour while the A-10 costs $17,000.
“The 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,” he said during the hearing.
The storage compromise could well make it into the final House version of the defense bill, but senators are vowing to continue the fight.
McCain told The Hill that he planned to prevent any attempt to retire the aircraft fleet when the Senate Armed Services Committee hammers out its version of the defense authorization bill later this month.
“We will have amendments,” he promised.
“I will fight that vehemently because the ground troops really need the A-10,” Graham added. The pair joined Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) in a statement disparaging the House compromise.
The full House Armed Services Committee will convene on Wednesday to take up McKeon’s proposed defense spending plan. Members will have the opportunity to offer amendments that could alter or even scrap the chairman’s Warthog proposal.