Report: Air Force may spare A-10 from budget cuts for now

WASHINGTON – The Air Force has delayed plans to retire the A-10 Warthog, a jet fighter that is a mainstay of the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, according to a published report.

The news, first reported Wednesday by the news site Defense One, was quickly welcomed by Arizona lawmakers who have fought the Air Force for the last several years over its plans to do away with the fighter.

“With growing global chaos and turmoil on the rise, we simply cannot afford to prematurely retire the best close air support weapon in our arsenal without fielding a proper replacement,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, in a statement released by his office.

An Air Force spokeswoman said Wednesday she could neither confirm nor deny the reports, adding that decisions on the plane’s future are part of the fiscal 2017 budget that will be released in February.

The Defense One story cited unnamed sources in the Pentagon who said plans to retire the A-10 would be put on hold for now because of the plane’s effectiveness in supporting ground troops in battles, like those being waged against ISIS forces.

That has been the argument raised by defenders of the A-10, who say that even though the plane was introduced in 1977, there is still no better aircraft for its role.

The Air Force argued that it could not afford to keep a specialized fighter because of budget restrictions, and planned to phase it out and replace it with the new F-35. Then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced in February 2014 that retiring the slow-flying, heavily-armored plane would save $3.5 billion over five years.

But a Government Accountability Office report in June said that the Air Force had “not fully assessed” cost savings from retiring the A-10 and that savings could be lower – or higher. And critics said the F-35 won’t be deployable for several years and that, even when it is deployed, it is not likely to fill the Warthog’s void.

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, a retired Air Force colonel and the first female A-10 instructor pilot in history, said the plane is a key instrument in the fight against ISIS because of its “irreplaceable capabilities.”

“It appears the administration is finally coming to its senses and recognizing the importance of A-10s to our troops’ lives and national security,” McSally said Wednesday in a statement released by her office.

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is currently home to 83 A-10Cs, according to the base website. It said there are about 6,500 active-duty military personnel, 1,000 Reserve and Air National Guard personnel and 3,000 civilians working at the base.

The possibility that the A-10 may have been granted a reprieve was welcomed by David Godlewski, president of the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance. The alliance of community leaders, businesses and military groups aims to increase and preserve the military presence in the region.

“Any decision to extend the life of the A-10 is positive,” Godlewski said. “It’s a very positive decision for the Air Force and the entire southern Arizona community.”

Lawmakers have been able to derail Air Force efforts to retire the jet since Hagel’s 2014 announcement, but both McCain and McSally said that while they appear to have won the battle they are not assuming they have won the war.

“When the Obama administration submits its 2017 budget request in the coming weeks, I hope it will follow through on its plan to keep the A-10 flying so that it can continue to protect American troops, many still serving in harm’s way,” McCain’s statement said.