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 AyotteWeek ahead: Comey firing dominates Washington GOP senators pitch Merrick Garland for FBI director Kelly Ayotte among candidates to be FBI director: report 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 McCainOvernight Defense: Trump scolds NATO allies over spending | Flurry of leaks worries allies | Senators rip B Army 'debacle' | Lawmakers demand hearing on Saudi arms deal The case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate Intel chiefs get subpoena power in Russia probe | Trump orders probe of leaks | Lawmaker unveils 'hacking back' bill MORE (R-Ariz.), a strong supporter of the A-10, Ranking Member Jack ReedJack ReedTaking the easy layup: Why brain cancer patients depend on it Intel chief quiet on whether Trump asked him to deny Russia evidence Dem senators push for probe of Sessions over Comey firing MORE (D-R.I.), and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad CochranThad CochranCongressional politics hurts cotton farmers GOP senators dismiss Trump filibuster change Ryan touts spending deal for breaking 'Obama rules' for defense MORE (R-Miss.) and Ranking Member Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiBipartisan friendship is a civil solution to political dysfunction Dems press for paycheck fairness bill on Equal Pay Day After 30 years celebrating women’s history, have we made enough progress? 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 GrahamSenate panel could pass new Russia sanctions this summer Overnight Cybersecurity: Bad Russian intel may have swayed Comey's handling of Clinton probe | Apple sees spike in data requests | More subpoenas for Flynn | DOJ's plan for data warrants Overnight Finance: GOP bill would leave 23M more uninsured, says CBO | Trump aides defend budget | Mnuchin asks for clean debt hike before August | Ryan says House could pass bill without border tax MORE (S.C.), Roger WickerRoger WickerIndustry pushes lawmakers to build 355-ship Navy GOP senators on Comey firing: Where they stand United Airlines grilled at Senate hearing MORE (Miss.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Mike CrapoMike CrapoCongress should ‘phone a friend’ when sanctioning Russia Sherrod Brown looks to defy Trump trend in Ohio McConnell 'not optimistic' Dodd-Frank overhaul will happen MORE (Idaho), David Perdue (Ga.), Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonOvernight Regulation: Appeals court upholds injunction on Trump travel ban | GOP bill would scrap 'micro-unions' Republicans introduce bill to scrap 'micro-unions' How a relic of the Obama administration is strangling America’s workforce MORE (Ga.), John BarrassoJohn BarrassoOvernight Finance: Dems introduce minimum wage bill | Sanders clashes with Trump budget chief | Border tax proposal at death's door Overnight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts Top GOP senators tell Trump to ditch Paris climate deal MORE (R-Wyo.) and Jim RischJim RischGOP senators meet with administration officials on tax reform The outdoor recreation economy is a force that is here to stay Tax profits not cash flow: An alternative to the GOP plan that helps small business 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.