Senate struggles to find A-10 Warthog funding

Senators on the Armed Services Committee are struggling to find a way fund the Air Force’s A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet and save it from retirement.

The Airland subcommittee on Tuesday marked up its portion of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act but did not include funding to keep the A-10, commonly known as the Warthog, from being sent to storage.

Subcommittee Chairman Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said that “there’s still the possibility” that the full committee would find a way to save the fleet, which the Air Force wants to retire to save money.

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Asked whether his colleagues were continuing to work on a way to pay for the attack fleet, Blumenthal replied, “Right.” 

The Pentagon wants to retire the A-10 to save $3.5 billion over five years and carry out its close air support mission with other platforms, such as the F-16 fighter.

Lawmakers in both chambers have slammed the proposal, arguing that there is no suitable replacement available. 

The House Armed Services Committee earlier this month adopted a version of the defense policy bill that keeps the Warthog in the air for at least another year by taking $635 million from the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which pays for operations in Afghanistan.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, though, has already dismissed the House plan.

Last week, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), the lead opponent against retiring the A-10, said she was working with Levin to find a new offset to pay for the fleet, which they are expected to reveal on Friday.

The Airland subcommittee on Tuesday adopted its $40.7 billion portion of the budget blueprint in a breezy 15-minute session.

Roughly $31.5 billion would go toward weapons procurement, and it devotes about $9.3 billion for research and development, according to Blumenthal. The proposed bill is a decrease of just over $10 million from last year’s figures, he noted.

The measure also calls for the establishment of an independent National Commission on the Future of the Army to examine possible structural changes to the service as well its Guard and Reserve forces.

The subpanel approved a bloc of amendments, including one from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that asks for a report on software development for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.