Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), will propose full funding for the A-10 in his mark of this year’s proposed defense authorization, according to reporting from Bill Theobald of the Arizona Republic. This would effectively upend the Air Force’s ongoing campaign to boneyard its only dedicated attack platform to free up money for the troubled F-35.
This is huge news. The HASC mark will reportedly include not just a year’s worth of operations and maintenance funding, but the cash needed to continue re-winging the Hawg, which would extend its service life another dozen years.
You’re going to hear some anxiety about the fact that the mark will not initially include language expressly forbidding retirement of the A-10. This would theoretically leave the door open for the Air Force to mothball the fleet and move the designated funds elsewhere. After all, when Gen. Welsh was asked if he’d retain the A-10 given sufficient funds, he said he’d “have to think about it.”
But don’t spend much time hand-wringing about the retirement language. If it is initially left out of the mark, it’s likely to give Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) an opportunity to propose an amendment adding it to the bill. This would be a way of allowing her to fairly harvest some political capital in exchange for her tireless and marvelously effective campaign to save the A-10 and the Close Air Support mission from the budget axe wielded by the Air Force on behalf of the Obama Administration. McSally has expressed her readiness to propose such an amendment should it be missing from the mark, which is expected to be released Monday.
This doesn’t mean the A-10 is in the clear this cycle. It still has to get through the Senate intact and authorized funds still must be appropriated. But as I wrote nearly a month ago, the political arrows are all pointing away from retiring the service’s only dedicated attack jet. And it’s a good thing. The mission of our military forces should drive this decision, and that mission clearly requires the A-10.
The full text of the Arizona Republic article:
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee will include funding for the A-10 Thunderbolt fleet in his proposal for a military authorization bill, The Arizona Republic has learned.
The support for the A-10 by committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, is a boost for Arizona. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson houses about 80 A-10s, more than a fourth of the fleet, and is the primary training facility for A-10 pilots.
And Davis-Monthan is a major economic engine in Tuscon and southern Arizona, with about 7,500 military and 2,900 civilian employees and a $973 million economic impact in 2013, according to an analysis conducted by the base.
Thornberry is expected on Monday to release his language, called the chairman’s “mark,” for the National Defense Authorization Act, which outlines spending and personnel plans for the entire military. Members of the committee will then debate the legislation beginning Wednesday.
While Thornberry will propose funding for the maintenance and operation of the A-10, he will encourage the full committee to debate the issue, according to a committee aide. The aide told The Republic the total cost for maintaining the fleet for a year would be about $600 million to $700 million.
Pentagon officials have said they need to shut down the A-10 program to free up money for other priorities, including the new F-35 fighter.
Supporters of the A-10, including Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a former A-10 pilot and squadron commander and member of the committee, said it is the best aircraft for providing close air support to troops.
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also has vowed to save the A-10, known as the “Warthog.”
Last year, McCain, R-Ariz., and then-Rep. Ron Barber, who was defeated by McSally last fall, were able to ward off a similar effort by the Pentagon to eliminate the A-10 program.
During a House Armed Services Committee hearing this March, Pentagon leaders conceded in response to questions from McSally that the proposal to eliminate the A-10 was simply a budget issue. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said she would favor keeping the fleet if Congress could provide the extra money.
Earlier this month, McSally led a group of seven lawmakers on the Armed Services Committee urging Thornberry and ranking Democrat Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., to include funding for the A-10 in the military authorization bill.
Even if the A-10 funding is authorized in the final version of the NDAA, the money still must be included in the military appropriation bill.
Supporters of the fleet say its value is shown by recent deployments. A dozen were sent from Davis-Monthan to Europe in February, and this week the Pentagon announced another dozen were being deployed to the Middle East.