McCain vows A-10 fleet has long life ahead

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRedistricting reform key to achieving the bipartisanship Americans claim to want Kelly takes under-the-radar approach in Arizona Senate race Voting rights, Trump's Big Lie, and Republicans' problem with minorities MORE (R-Ariz.), the incoming Armed Services Committee chairman, says the A-10 aircraft will keep its role in the nation's defense for a long time to come, despite the Pentagon's push to retire the fleet.

"The A-10 is the most capable air-to-ground weapon system that is in the entire inventory," McCain said during a visit Thursday to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, The Associated Press reported.

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"I think they will be with us for an extended period of time."

The base is home to 80 active A-10 fighter jets, comprising about a one-third of the Air Force fleet.

McCain, joined by other members of Arizona’s congressional delegation, made the stop as part of a daylong tour of some of the Grand Canyon State’s major military installations.

The senator is one of the most outspoken defenders of the A-10, known affectionately as the "Warthog" by service members.

Air Force leaders this year proposed retiring the fleet as a cost-saving measure, sparking a fierce pushback by A-10 supporters on Capitol Hill.

“Here at D-M [Davis-Monthan] I intend to devote our efforts next year to making sure the A-10 remains operational here because I believe it’s vital in close air-support missions,” McCain added, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

The 2015 defense policy bill keeps the plane in the air for at least one more year, but cuts its flying hours and reallocates some of its maintenance staff toward the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

McCain’s comments come days after reports the Cold War-era plane carried out strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

The development could make it hard for defense officials to again push for scrapping the Warthog, which many lawmakers expect them to do in the fiscal 2016 budget.