GOP senators warn of new threat to A-10 fleet

GOP senators warn of new threat to A-10 fleet
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Republican senators are urging the chairmen of two key committees to ensure the Air Force doesn't take any steps to retire the A-10 "Warthog" attack jet.

"When we send our troops into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation to ensure that they have the very best support possible so they can accomplish their missions and return home safely," said a March 27 letter from the group, led by Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteStale, misguided, divisive: minimum wage can't win elections Trump voter fraud commission sets first meeting outside DC RNC chair warns: Republicans who refused to back Trump offer 'cautionary tale' MORE (R-N.H.), to leaders of the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committees.

"Unfortunately, the Air Force is again pursuing its premature, misguided, and dangerous divestment of the A-10," they warned.

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The group is calling for the forthcoming 2016 defense policy bill to specifically prohibit any steps to ground the A-10, which provides ground troops with close air support during battle, until an equally capable replacement is operational.

The letter argues the Air Force should not be allowed to place the aircraft in storage or "backup" status, or make "significant changes" to manning levels or flight hours. 

The letter also urges leaders to authorize the $737 million needed to keep the A-10 fleet running in 2016.

The letters were sent to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSenate's defense authorization would set cyber doctrine Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (R-Ariz.), a strong supporter of the A-10, Ranking Member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Raymond ReedOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill This week: Senate wrapping up defense bill after amendment fight MORE (D-R.I.), and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranMcConnell tees up debt, government-funding vote National Flood Insurance Program is the next storm for hurricane survivors Trump exempts Citgo from Venezuela sanctions MORE (R-Miss.) and Ranking Member Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiGore wishes Mikulski a happy birthday at 'Inconvenient Sequel' premiere Bipartisan friendship is a civil solution to political dysfunction Dems press for paycheck fairness bill on Equal Pay Day MORE (D-Md.). 

Air Force leaders and Congress have fought for several years over the retirement of the A-10, and the letter comes as the House and Senate put together their defense policy and spending bills. 

The Air Force has argued the A-10's close air support mission can be performed by other aircraft, and that its retirement can save money for more critical aircraft, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. 

Retiring the A-10 would save $4 billion in five years, Air Force officials have said.  

The senators' letter concedes that "someday" new technology could allow the F-35 and other aircraft to provide the same role, but said "that day has not yet arrived." 

"We still need CAS [close air support] aircraft that can fly low and slow, beneath bad weather, close enough to the point of ground combat, and survive," the letter said. 

The senators added that the close air support capabilities of the F-35 "remain to be seen" and the aircraft is not expected to achieve full operational capability until 2021 at the earliest.

“The Air Force has not persuaded us that it can prematurely divest the A-10 — our nation’s most combat-effective and cost-efficient [close air support] aircraft — without putting our ground troops in serious additional danger,” the letter said.

“For that reason, we look forward to working with you to prohibit the additional divestment of A-10 aircraft before an equally capable close air support aircraft achieves full operational capability," it said. 

The letter was also signed by Republican Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTop Louisiana health official rips Cassidy over ObamaCare repeal bill Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (S.C.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerWeek ahead: Crunch time for defense bill’s cyber reforms | Equifax under scrutiny Senator says he nearly has the votes for ObamaCare repeal GOP braces for Bannon primary attacks MORE (Miss.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoSenate Banking panel approves Trump's Fed, comptroller nominees Harvey damage adds urgency to flood insurance debate Don't let funding for US Forest Service go up in flames MORE (Idaho), David Perdue (Ga.), Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonHouse sends resolution urging Trump to condemn white supremacists Senate approves resolution condemning white supremacist groups The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Ga.), John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoDems force 'Medicare for All' on Americans but exempt themselves GOP sees fresh opening with Dems’ single payer embrace Overnight Health Care: CBO predicts 15 percent ObamaCare premium hike | Trump calls Sanders single-payer plan ‘curse on the US’ | Republican seeks score of Sanders’s bill MORE (R-Wyo.) and Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischSenate approves Trump's debt deal with Democrats Overnight Cybersecurity: Mueller impanels grand jury in Russia probe | Researcher who helped stop WannaCry attack detained | Audit finds OPM systems still at risk Overnight Finance: Trump signs Russia sanctions bill, rips Congress | Trump plan would cut legal immigration | Senate confirms labor board pick | House Budget chair running for governor | Regulator takes step to change 'Volcker Rule' MORE (Idaho).

"Today’s A-10, extensively modernized and even more lethal, remains our nation’s best CAS platform," the senators wrote. 

"This year, the A-10’s performance in Iraq and Syria against ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] and its deployment to Europe to deter additional aggression there underscore the A-10’s continued lethality, survivability, and effectiveness," they added.