'Warthog' dealt a blow

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday became the first congressional panel to back scrapping the A-10 “Warthog,” an attack plane beloved by U.S. troops for its support in ground operations.

The panel rejected an amendment from Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) to save the A-10 in a 23-13 vote. A number of A-10s are based in Kingston’s state, where the Republican is running for the Senate.

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The Pentagon’s effort to retire the A-10 has sparked a battle with the plane’s defenders that has waged all year. Supporters won an early victory last month when the House approved a version of the 2015 Defense authorization that keeps the Warthog in the air for at least another year.

They notched another win when the Senate Armed Services Committee unveiled its authorization blueprint that set aside money for the venerated 283-plane fleet.

Tuesday’s action by House appropriators is by no means the end of the story; it is unclear whether the full House or Senate will agree to retire the A-10. However, it does serve as a clarion call by the spending committee that it wants to put money behind other programs.

“Respectfully, let me stipulate at the onset that the A-10 Thunderbolt is a tremendous aircraft,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), chairman of the committee’s Defense subpanel, before the vote. “It is, though, 30 to 40 years old ... and close-air support is not the only mission the Air Force must be able to perform.”

He said retiring the beloved attack plane would save the Air Force “billions, not millions,” and that if he felt the move to mothball the platform was a “green eye shade” gimmick by the service, he would vote against it.

Frelinghuysen also said the Warthog’s close air support mission could be performed by other aircraft, such as the F-16 fighter and the B-1 bomber. The Pentagon has made the same argument.

“This money could be plowed back into the procurement of modern, multi-mission aircraft and research and development of a new generation of unmanned systems,” he said.

Attention will now turn to the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee, which could take up its version of the spending bill in early July, according to subpanel Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat has thus far been silent on the fate of the Warthog.

—This story was posted at 11:21 and updated at 4:19 p.m.