Sen. Ayotte says panel will save A-10 fleet

Greg Nash

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) on Wednesday expressed confidence that lawmakers will find a way to fund the Air Force’s A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet when they take up the annual defense authorization bill next week.

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Ayotte, a leading opponent of the service’s plan to ground the aircraft known throughout the military as the “Warthog,” said she had spoken with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and that “he is committed to preserving the A-10 during this year’s defense authorization.”

The Defense Department has proposed retiring the 283-plane fleet to achieve $3.5 billion in savings over the next five years. Pentagon leaders argue the Warthog’s close air support capabilities can be performed by other planes, including the F-16 fighter, but many lawmakers are skeptical.

In its markup of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act last week, the House Armed Services panel voted 41-20 in favor of a proposal to keep the A-10 flying for another year by transferring $635 million from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget, which pays for operations in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Levin dismissed the House plan, saying it was not “legitimate.”

Levin “believes that there needs to be a pay-for that is different from what the House came up with,” Ayotte said during a press conference devoted to preserving the Warthog. “We are working with him to come up with a pay-for that does not use OCO but stays within the budget caps.”

She said that the chairman has some “good ideas” on how to pay for the fleet but that he is not ready to share them.

Ayotte said she would offer an amendment to keep the A-10 fleet if the language is not included in the policy bill’s language.

“And if [Levin] refuses Sen. Ayotte’s request, he will have to hire someone to start his car in the morning,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) joked.