WASHINGTON — A band of lawmakers announced Thursday it will organize in support of the A-10 Thunderbolt, a close-air support fighter the Pentagon wants to retire over the next five years.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said she is preparing amendments to reverse the plan announced last month by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. A member of the Armed Services Committee, Ayotte said she is working to come up with an alternative to $3.5 billion that would be saved by phasing out what is commonly known as the Warthog.
At a news conference, Ayotte was joined by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Reps. Ron Barber D-Ariz., and Vicki Hartzler, R-Mo., who represent bases with A-10 units.
The 66th Weapons Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base has 14 A-10s in a fleet assigned to the Air Force, Air National Guard and Reserve.
“The Taliban hate the A-10, and that’s good enough for me,” Graham said.
He maintained decisions to halt use of the aircraft are being made not with military justification but because of sequestration budget cuts forced by Congress.
“We can beat on the Air Force all we like, but they have to make decisions they really should not have to make,” Graham said. “They are having to pick and choose because of a budget that is irresponsible.”
Previous attempts to disband A-10 units were put on hold because of pushback from members of Congress. A-10 defenders say it is popular and effective in providing cover for ground troops in battle.
Hagel said the A-10 has served well for 40 years, but it remains a single-purpose aircraft.
“It cannot survive or operate effectively where there are more advanced aircraft or air defenses,” he said in February.
Its mission would be picked up by the next-generation F-35 joint strike fighter.
Ayotte, whose husband was an A-10 pilot in the National Guard, said the F-35s won’t come online until 2021, while the plan is to retire the A-10 by 2019.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.