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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 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.), 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 McCainComey donates maximum amount to Democratic challenger in Virginia House race Live coverage: McSally clashes with Sinema in Arizona Senate debate Is there difference between good and bad online election targeting? MORE (R-Ariz.), a strong supporter of the A-10, Ranking Member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Trump worries Saudi Arabia treated as 'guilty until proven innocent' | McConnell opens door to sanctions | Joint Chiefs chair to meet Saudi counterpart | Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' Five changes Democrats will seek at Pentagon if they win power The Hill's Morning Report — Historic, high-stakes day for Kavanaugh and Ford MORE (D-R.I.), and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranThe Hill's Morning Report — Kavanaugh ordeal thrusts FBI into new political jam GOP Senate candidate to African Americans: Stop begging for 'government scraps' Trump endorses Hyde-Smith in Mississippi Senate race MORE (R-Miss.) and Ranking Member Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiAthletic directors honor best former student-athletes on Capitol Hill Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Robert Mueller's forgotten surveillance crime spree 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 GrahamSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Suspects in journalist's disappearance linked to Saudi crown prince: report Overnight Defense: Trump worries Saudi Arabia treated as 'guilty until proven innocent' | McConnell opens door to sanctions | Joint Chiefs chair to meet Saudi counterpart | Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' MORE (S.C.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerSenate Republicans demand Google hand over memo advising it to hide data vulnerability Shipping companies want Congress to increase shipping truck size Ricin attacks will continue MORE (Miss.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoLawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks GOP loads up lame-duck agenda as House control teeters Republicans shift course after outside counsel falters MORE (Idaho), David Perdue (Ga.), Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonHouse conservatives want ethics probe into Dems' handling of Kavanaugh allegations Senate eyes Kavanaugh floor vote next week Trump blasts Tester at Montana rally: 'He loves the swamp' MORE (Ga.), John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoWhy grizzly bear hunting season isn’t happening Trump poised to sign bipartisan water infrastructure bill Dems to force health care vote weeks before Nov. midterms MORE (R-Wyo.) and Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischMcCain’s death marks decline of Trump’s GOP Senate critics Overnight Health Care: Senate approves massive bill including health spending | Bill includes drug pricing measure | Move to block Planned Parenthood funding fails Overnight Defense: Senate passes massive defense, domestic spending bill | Duncan Hunter to step down from committees | Pompeo names North Korea envoy 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.