A-10 'Warthog' likely to keep flying

A-10 'Warthog' likely to keep flying

The A-10 is poised to dodge retirement. Again.

After a near-death experience in 2014, the aircraft known among troops as the “Warthog” appears to be cruising toward renewal from Congress.

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The Air Force has waged a protracted battle to mothball its fleet of A-10s, calling it a necessary cost-saving move that would save roughly $4 billion. Service leaders say the A-10’s close air support mission can be carried out by other planes, including the F-16 fighter, the B-1 bomber and the long-awaited F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

But that argument has failed to persuade lawmakers, who counter that the service has no suitable replacement for the aircraft that today is flying missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, the House approved a fiscal 2016 national defense authorization act (NDAA) that includes roughly $683 million to keep the A-10 flying, rebuffing the Air Force’s pleas.

The vote came the day after the Senate Armed Services Committee unveiled the draft of its own defense policy bill, which includes around $355 million in funding for the aircraft.

While the Senate proposal, which could reach the floor in June, does not include around $240 million to re-wing the aging fleet, it does ask the Air Force to maintain, at minimum, 171 A-10s in combat status.

The language is a nod to last year’s joint defense policy bill, which permitted the Air Force to move up to 36 of the service’s nearly 300 Warthogs into back-up inventory status and allowed the service to shuffle maintenance personnel from the A-10 to the F-35 program.

The service began implementing that plan in February, shifting 18 attack jets into back-up status.

“Retiring the A-10 before an equally capable replacement is fully operational would result in additional and unnecessary American casualties in future conflicts,” Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteHow Gorsuch's confirmation shapes the next Supreme Court battle THE MEMO: Trump set to notch needed win with Gorsuch Gorsuch sherpa: Dems giving GOP ‘no choice’ on nuclear option MORE (R-N.H.), one the A-10’s staunchest supporters, said in a statement following the NDAA roll out.

“The Air Force should listen to our ground troops and end its efforts to send our nation’s best close air support aircraft to the boneyard,” she added.

Momentum for keeping the attack jet appeared to be building before lawmakers adjourned for the Memorial Day recess.

In a closed-door session, the powerful House Appropriations Defense subcommittee approved a $490 Pentagon spending bill that devotes around $453 million to A-10 operations next fiscal year.

The inclusion marked a reversal from last year, when the subpanel and the full Appropriations Committee would have allowed the Warthog to be retired.

But an amendment to keep the planes airborne was approved during floor debate.

The Appropriations Committee is slated to mark up the Defense Department spending measure next week.

While the Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to roll out its Pentagon spending bill, the military isn’t sitting on its laurels.

Speaking to reporters this week, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno touted new hardware that’s in the pipeline, including the F-35 and unmanned aerial vehicles and attack helicopters.

“I always get asked the question, what do I think about the A-10?” he said. “I’m very confident the Air Force can provide appropriate close air support without the A-10.”

The recent moves by Congress are by no means the end of the story.

It remains to be seen whether the full House or Senate will agree on how to keep the Warthog airborne, or if President Obama will end up vetoing the DOD-related measures.