By David Wichner for Arizona Daily Star
The venerable A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack jet, a mainstay of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, has won a powerful new ally in Congress in the fight to save the aircraft from early retirement.
During a visit to Tucson Oct. 19 with Arizona Rep. Martha McSally, House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said the A-10 is safe from proposed retirement in pending versions of the main defense authorization bill for fiscal 2017.
And Thornberry said the A-10 will keep flying for the foreseeable future, if he has anything to do about it.
Speaking at the gate of Davis-Monthan Air Force base with military aircraft soaring overhead, Thornberry said there is broad support in Congress to keep the A-10 to fulfill an urgent need for close air support of ground troops.
Built for close air support, the A-10 already has a strong supporter in Thornberry’s Senate counterpart, John McCain, who with McSally and others has helped block Air Force plans to retire the aircraft to save money.
Backers say that with no ready replacement to provide the kind of slow, loitering and lethal air support the A-10 offers, retiring the “Warthog” would put troops’ lives at risk.
Thornberry, who became chairman of Armed Services last year, said he supports a McSally amendment in the pending version of the defense policy bill, requiring comparative test of close air support capabilities between the A-10 and the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Thornberry said he also supports another McSally amendment to the defense appropriations bill, that would provide $100M to resume a program to upgrade wings on existing A-10s whose airframes are reaching their maximum service life.
He predicted the A-10 retirement prohibition and the re-winging proposal will make it through the lame-duck Congress after the election as part of a larger budget deal.
Earlier this year, Air Force brass said they would delay the planned final retirement of the A-10 fleet by three years, to 2022.
But McSally, a Tucson Republican and a former A-10 combat pilot, said that without the re-winging upgrades, the Air Force would have to start scrapping A-10s by fiscal 2018.
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