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 AyotteFive possible successors to Mattis Mattis resigns, says views aren't in line with Trump's Election 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 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 McCainScience group seeks to draft Mark Kelly for 2020 Arizona Senate race Trump is right: Walls work on the southern border How news media omissions distort Russia probe narrative ... and shield Democrats MORE (R-Ariz.), a strong supporter of the A-10, Ranking Member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedDems demand access to interpreters at Trump's meetings with Putin Overnight Defense: Senators say questions remain after Syria briefing | Trump inches closer to declaring emergency to build wall | Air Force accepts Boeing tankers despite flaws Senators say questions remain on Trump strategy in Syria after briefing MORE (D-R.I.), and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranTop 5 races to watch in 2019 Bottom Line Races Dems narrowly lost show party needs to return to Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy MORE (R-Miss.) and Ranking Member Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi to reclaim Speakership amid shutdown Athletic directors honor best former student-athletes on Capitol Hill Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee 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 GrahamCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Overnight Defense: Four Americans killed in Syria suicide attack | State of the Union becomes latest shutdown flashpoint | Missile defense review on track for Thursday release White House condemns 'terror attack' that killed US troops in Syria MORE (S.C.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerOvernight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal Mobile providers at center of privacy storm The Memo: Trump moves to brink of emergency declaration MORE (Miss.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoSenate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions Deutsche Bank targeted by Dems over Trump ties Senators offer measure naming Saudi crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi slaying MORE (Idaho), David Perdue (Ga.), Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonLeaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight Senators offer measure naming Saudi crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi slaying Georgia’s midterm elections reveal historic voter realignment MORE (Ga.), John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOvernight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Dems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing Dem senator expresses concern over acting EPA chief's 'speedy promotion' MORE (R-Wyo.) and Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischCongress poised to push back at Trump on Saudi Arabia, Syria Senate poised to rebut Trump on Syria Trump's military moves accelerate GOP search for next McCain 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.