House panel votes to keep the A-10 Warthog flying another year

House panel votes to keep the A-10 Warthog flying another year
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The House Armed Services Committee voted early Thursday morning to keep the A-10 attack jet flying another year, as the panel marked up its 2016 defense policy bill. 

An amendment, proposed by Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyOvernight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds Trump taps new Air Force secretary Bolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran MORE (R-Ariz.), would prohibit the Air Force from taking any moves to retire the plane, something it has been trying to do for several years under budget constraints. 

The amendment passed by voice vote after emotional debate by members of the committee, particularly military veterans on the panel, who argued for and against keeping the plane, which is designed to support ground troops in battle. 

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McSally, a retired Air Force colonel, A-10 pilot and squadron commander, led the case for keeping the attack jet, arguing it had superior loitering capabilities and a powerful weapons load, even bringing in a real, but non-live, ammunition round. 

Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.) said one of his sons, who served in Afghanistan, said when the A-10s came, “the enemy scattered” — and that other aircraft did not scare them as much.

“Coming from the farm, if it ain’t broke, don't fix it,” said Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.). Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) added, “It is the all-purpose sledgehammer of the skies.” 

Former Marine and Iraq veteran Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) led the argument for retiring the A-10, arguing the money could be better spent elsewhere, pointing to roadside bombs — the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“There are far more that will die [from roadside bombs than] from scenarios where only A-10s can provide close air support,” said Moulton. 

He proposed an alternate amendment that would allow the Air Force to take steps to retire as many as 164 A-10s, but leave more than 100 in service. That amendment failed. 

McSally argued that 100 would leave only three squadrons — down from the current nine — and would not be able to fulfill even current requirements. 

Other veterans on the committee jumped into the fray, with retired Navy SEAL Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) arguing there was not yet an adequate replacement for the A-10.  

"You don't cut your main chute if you don't know what your reserve looks like,” he said.

McSally argued that the A-10 also performs combat search and rescue for downed pilots. The A-10 would prevent a downed U.S. pilot from being captured and lit on fire by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) like a downed Jordanian pilot was earlier this year, she said. 

But Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a former Marine and veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, voiced support for his fellow Marine’s amendment. 

Hunter said he did not know why Congress was forcing the Air Force to conduct the close air support mission and keep the A-10 when it didn’t want to. 

Otherwise, support for each amendment fell largely on party lines. 

The panel’s chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), voted in support of McSally’s amendment, saying he was persuaded by the fact that the Air Force keeps deploying the A-10, including a dozen earlier this month in the fight against ISIS. 

Ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who supported Moulton’s amendment, said after the votes that he was “deeply disturbed” that Congress was preventing the Air Force from retiring the plane but was not doing anything to lift spending caps that were constraining the Pentagon's budget. 

Moulton said the Air Force would like to keep the A-10 in an “ideal world” with enough money and less-advanced adversaries. But, he said, “We live in a real world.” 

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) responded that troops in her state are currently deployed to Iraq, and the “threat is real.” 

“Presently, A-10s support these operations. I and the troops I represent appreciate the A-10,” she said.