Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., is warning the Air Force that any attempt to cut the A-10 in 2014 may violate the law. (Senior Airman Kayla Newman / Air Force)
New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte is warning the Air Force that any attempt to cut the A-10 in 2014 may violate the law, a clear warning shot at the service as it prepares to release its 2015 budget.
Ayotte and her allies inserted language into the 2014 National Defense Authorization act (NDAA) stating the service “may not retire, prepare to retire, or place in storage” any A-10 aircraft during the entirety of calendar year 2014. (A-10s that the service planned to retire as of April 9, 2013, will be allowed to retire.)
“It has come to my attention that the Air Force may be taking steps to prepare to retire the A-10 in violation of current law,” Ayotte wrote in a Jan. 24 letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.
The letter, released today by Ayotte’s office, charges that Air Force Air Combat Command (ACC) has issued orders to stop development on Suite 8 of the operational flight program for the A-10, which will upgrade the identification friend or fire beacon to levels required by the service by 2015.
“Without IFF Mode 5, combatant commanders will be unlikely to allow the A-10 to operate in contested areas,” Ayotte wrote. “Equally troubling, I understand that a failure to complete the Suit 8 development will prevent any new subsystems from being installed and integrated into the airframe’s avionics architecture.”
In other words, Ayotte believes the Air Force is trying to hew to the letter of the law while violating the spirit in a manner that would render the planes inoperable after 2015.
“The Air Force appears to be taking steps to retire the A-10 in violation of the law before Congress has had a chance to receive and scrutinize the Department of Defense’s FY 2015 budget request as it relates to the A-10,” Ayotte concludes. And if that decision is actually happening, “I ask you to reverse this action which I believe is in violation of the law.”
It’s a strong accusation towards the service, but Ayotte, whose husband piloted A-10s in the National Guard, has been fiercely protective of the A-10, a platform designed to do close-air support for troops on the ground. In late 2013, she held up James’ nomination over the service’s plan to divest itself of the A-10.
Supporters of the plane argue that it is the best way to protect ground forces, but Air Force officials point out that the close-air support mission is being fulfilled now by many other platforms, including the F-15E and B-1 bomber. Under sequestration, service officials argue, single-mission aircraft like the A-10 need to be removed via “vertical cuts” in order to save precious funding.
A service spokeswoman said the Air Force is working on a response to Ayotte.