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Air Force will try to cut A-10 fleet again

February 2, 2015 (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Dayton Mitchell/Air Force)

The Air Force will try again this year to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II, reigniting a battle that several lawmakers have vowed to fight.

The service's fiscal 2016 budget proposal states that the service wants to begin retiring the A-10 in fiscal 2016 "to focus available funding on more urgent combatant commander requirements," according to the service's budget overview released Monday. In fiscal 2016, the service seeks to retire 164 A-10s; "however, the A-10 will remain operational and available for deployment until 2019."

The service has said the plan would save $3.5 billion over five years.

"It's not about not liking or not wanting the A-10," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said at a State of the Air Force briefing on Jan. 15. "It's about some very tough decisions that we have to make to recapitalize an Air Force for the threat 10 years from now."

The plan mirrors what the Air Force submitted last year. Under that plan, active-duty units would be cut at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; and Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units in Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri and Arizona would receive replacement aircraft, either F-15s or F-16s.

Several key lawmakers have already promised to block any plans to retire the Warthog, even before the Air Force submitted its budget plans. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has repeatedly vowed to keep the A-10 flying.

"We all know this is the best platform [for close-air support]," McCain said. "There's no doubt about that. We're talking about the lives of men and women serving in harm's way."

Freshman Republican Rep. Martha McSally, also of Arizona, is a former A-10 pilot and squadron commander, and last week wrote a letter to President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging them to not attempt to retire the aircraft.

"From my experience as an A-10 pilot and squadron commander, I know firsthand the unique capabilities of the A-10 in close air support, forward air control-airborne, and combat search and rescue missions," McSally wrote. "The Warthog is anything but a 'single mission aircraft' and there is simply no other asset that can match its lethality, loiter time, and survivability. The decision to retire it is reckless and will put American lives at risk."

The Air Force, in its fiscal 2016 budget proposal, is also looking at cutting other aircraft. The plan would reduce the service's F-15C/D fleet by 31 aircraft over five years, 10 in fiscal 2016. The fleet is more than 27 years old and "requires modernization to remain viable." The remaining aircraft would undergo radar and avionics upgrades, along with other service-life extension upgrades.

The budget proposal reverses course in the service's plan for high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The service would retain the U-2 Dragon Lady. Last year, the Air Force tried to retire the aging aircraft, but was blocked by Congress. The plan also sustains RQ-4 Global Hawks, including the Block 30 variant the service tried to mothball in previous budget plans.

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