By Kristina Wong - 05/08/14 12:02 AM EDT
The Air Force's A-10 close air support plane affectionately known as the "Warthog" survived another legislative battle for its life Wednesday evening, as the House Armed Services Committee put together its 2015 defense bill.
The Air Force says retiring the plane would free up $4 billion for future war-fighting priorities, but supporters say there is no equivalent replacement to provide troops on the ground in battle with close air support.
The amendment, if approved by the full House, would require a study to ensure that troops have adequate close air support, and delay the A-10 fleet's retirement for at least a year.
Earlier this week, the committee's chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) proposed the idea in his bill draft to retire the A-10s but store them in a way they could quickly come back if needed.
However, Republicans and Democratic lawmakers rejected that proposal.
"We can shrink wrap the airplane ... but we cannot send [untrained] pilots into combat," said Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.).
McKeon said the plane was no longer flying close air support missions in Afghanistan, but several lawmakers said the plane would be needed if North Korea attacked U.S. troops in South Korea, or if there were another war within the next seven to eight years before the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, its envisioned replacement, would be operational.
"The F-35 I'm sure is going to be a wonderful airplane, but it's far from operational," said Rep. William Enyart (D-Ill.). "We can't afford to have that gap in capability for the next seven years."
"This aircraft is good for ground troops," said Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). "Troops need to know the close air support they call in is capable of delivering deadly firepower. ... Let's keep the aircraft flying so it can save lives."