The Air Force Inspector General's Office is investigating allegations that a two-star general told a group of officers they were committing treason if they worked with lawmakers against the service's own contentious plans to retire the A-10.
Maj. Gen. James Post, vice commander of Air Combat Command, reportedly made the comments earlier this month at a meeting of the Tactics Review Board at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, according to the military blog John Q. Public.
"Anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason," Post is quoted by blog author and former Air Force officer Tony Carr.
Post allegedly prefaced his words by saying if anyone accused him of saying them, he would deny it.
In response to news reports about the comments, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called on Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James last week to investigate.
McCain chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and wants to keep the A-10 in service.
The IG opened the investigation Jan. 22, service spokesman Maj. Pete Hughes said in an email Monday.
"The Air Force Inspector General's Office ... is actively engaged in determining the facts of the matter in the most expeditious manner possible," he said.
Stars and Stripes first reported on the investigation.
As of Monday, there was no estimated completion date, Hughes said. "At Senator McCain's request, the Air Force will notify his office of the results of this investigation as soon as they are available."
The Air Force is taking the matter seriously, he added.
Air Combat Command said last week it does not have a transcript of the general's comments. However, his "use of hyperbole" was intended to prove a point — and not to restrict airmen from communicating with members of Congress, the command said in a statement.
"The Air Force decision on recommended actions/strategic choices for the constrained fiscal environment has been made and the service's position communicated," ACC said in a statement. "While subsequent government debate will continue at the highest levels as those recommendations and other options are evaluated, our job as airmen is to continue to execute our mission and duties — certainly our role as individual military members is not to engage in public debate or advocacy for policy."
The general's comments recognize ACC's responsibility to organize, train and equip while "preparing for tomorrow's challenges," the statement said.
The Air Force planned to start retiring the A-10 in its FY15 budget request, but immediately ran into a brick wall in the form of Congress. That opposition has held firm despite pleas from the service that the aging Warthog fleet must be retired to free up funding for recapitalization and modernization programs.
That fight has created deep rifts between the Hill and service leadership, with some staffers openly accusing the Air Force of trying to mislead members of Congress in order to retire the jet, best known for its role as a close-air support plane.
Congressional opposition has not dissuaded the Air Force, however. At a Jan 15 briefing at the Pentagon, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh indicated the service will attempt cut fleets of aircraft again when it releases its proposed 2016 budget early next month. While Welsh would not identify the A-10 by name, he did not back off his desire to begin winding down that plane.
"It's not about not liking or not wanting the A-10," Welsh said at the January briefing. "It's about some very tough decisions that we have to make to recapitalize the Air Force for the threat 10 years from now."
In the meantime, the A-10 remains in heavy rotation. As of Jan. 19, the plane has been involved with 11 percent of anti-Islamic State group sorties run by the Air Force.
Defense News writer Aaron Mehta contributed to this story.