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GOP senators vow to keep A-10 flying

GOP senators vow to keep A-10 flying
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Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee vowed Tuesday to reject the Pentagon's plans to retire the A-10 "Warthog" attack jet in their 2016 defense policy bill. 

"We plan to ensure the A-10 is preserved so our men and women on the ground have the very best close air support capability because they deserve it," said Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteElection Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms GOP mulls having outside counsel question Kavanaugh, Ford Pallbearers, speakers announced for McCain's DC memorial service and Capitol ceremony MORE (R-N.H.), a panel member and vocal supporter of the aircraft.  

Ayotte hosted a press conference Tuesday morning with five fellow Republican committee members, including Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainVan Hollen not interested in staying on as chair of Senate Dems' campaign arm Election Countdown: Lawsuits fly in Florida recount fight | Nelson pushes to extend deadline | Judge says Georgia county violated Civil Rights Act | Biden, Sanders lead 2020 Dem field in poll | Bloomberg to decide on 2020 by February Jeff Flake congratulates Kyrsten Sinema on win: ‘You’ll be great’ MORE (R-Ariz.), to speak in support of the plane, which provides support for ground troops in battle. 

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The committee plans to vote on the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) next week, which authorizes Pentagon spending and activities, and could prohibit the Air Force from taking any steps to retire the aircraft. 

Ayotte also said she would also oppose any language that would allow the Air Force to reduce reliance on the aircraft, such as putting the fleet into backup status, reducing flying hours, or shifting maintenance personnel to other aircraft. 

The plane has become the subject of heated debate between supporters on Capitol Hill and the Pentagon. 

The A-10 played a large role in protecting ground troops in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Air Force says the plane needs to be retired to shift money and resources to newer aircraft like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  

Air Force officials say retiring the plane would save $4 billion over five years, and that the close air support mission could be performed by other aircraft. 

However, supporters argue that the envisioned replacement, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, would not be ready in time, and that no other aircraft performs the mission as well. 

"If we send them less than the best...we put Americans at risk and that is unacceptable," said Ayotte, whose husband is a former A-10 pilot. 

She pointed out that A-10 squadrons are currently deployed in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and in Europe to bolster U.S. allies worried about Russia's actions.

McCain called the Air Force's plan to retire the aircraft "bewildering." He said flying the A-10 was more economical than the F-35 "whose price continues to escalate" and the "astronomical" cost of flying the B-1 bomber. 

"We will be working with the House Armed Services Committee... to preserve the A-10," he added. The House panel voted last week to prohibit the Air Force from taking any actions to retire the aircraft. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate panel and a prospective 2016 presidential candidate, warned the Air Force: "If you don't watch it, you're going to ruin what's left of your reputation on Capitol Hill." 

He said if retiring the A-10 was about money, "let's find money to make sure it keeps flying." 

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), whose state hosts an Air Force base with three A-10 fighter squadrons, added that "the A-10 is ISIL's worst enemy," using another acronym for the terror group. "[You don't] disarm in the middle of a conflict." 

“The A-10 is our best close-air support platform,” added Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.). "It’s being used now, and it has been used for years, because of its proven capabilities and its cost-effectiveness."

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), freshman senator and Iowa National Guard lieutenant colonel, said the A-10 "is the only air platform that can get up close and very personal with ISIS." 

Charlie Keevaugh, president of the Tactical Air Control Party Association, who also spoke at the briefing said if the A-10 is retired, then training for JTACs -- troops on the ground calling in airstrikes -- would be reduced. 

"The training that goes into making an JTAC is very important," said Keebaugh. "If you take the A10 pilot out, you reduce the training that the JTAC gets." 

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Tim Stamey, who spoke at the briefing, said the A-10 really made a difference at nighttime and in bad weather conditions where other platforms can't fly as well. 

"Nothing even comes close," he said. 

-- Updated 4:37 p.m.