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Senators Restore Funding for A-10s, Growlers

The Senate Armed Services Committee agreed to preserve funding next year for the Air Force's A-10 gunship, the Navy's EA-18G Growler electronic attack jet and other equipment the Pentagon didn't want to pay for.

The panel led by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, on Thursday voted 25-1 in passing its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, which sets policy goals and spending targets for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

The lone dissenter was Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. A spokeswoman for his office didn't immediately respond to an e-mail requesting comment on why he rejected the bill.

As expected, the legislation would prohibit the Air Force from taking steps to retire the A-10, known officially as the Thunderbolt II and unofficially as the Warthog, and add $257 million in operations and maintenance funding for the Cold War-era plane, according to a statement from the chairman's press secretary.

The service as part of its fiscal 2015 budget requested divesting the almost 300 A-10s that remain in the fleet in response to automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. It argued the move would save $4.2 billion over five years and have a minimal impact on military operations.

A group of lawmakers including Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, and John McCain, R-Arizona, opposed the plan and held multiple press conferences to generate publicity over their concerns.

Exactly how much funding is needed to keep the planes flying for at least another year remains unclear.

An article by Brian Everstine of Air Force Times reported the Senate is seeking to set aside $320 million for the A-10 by using personnel funding made available from faster-than-expected headcount reductions. Meanwhile, the House on Thursday passed its version of the bill that would block the Air Force from sending the aircraft to the bone yard by using $635 million from the Pentagon's war budget.

The Senate committee also authorized a total of $100 million for the Navy to continue buying EA-18G Growlers made by Boeing Co. That move, which includes $25 million in new procurement and $75 million in prior-year funds, came after extensive lobbying from the Chicago-based aerospace giant.

The House added even more funding for the Growlers, with $450 million for five of the aircraft. So like the A-10, the Growler is likely safe next year, though the exact funding level remains to be determined.

The Senate panel also authorized $651 million to modify the Army's AH-64 Apache helicopters made by Boeing, $331 million for continued development of the Army's Paladin self-propelled howitzer artillery system developed by BAE Systems Plc, $276 million for the Navy's Tomahawk cruise missiles made by Raytheon Co., and $210 million for the Army's Joint Light Tactical Vehicle to replace the Humvee.

But not all weapons and equipment were spared the budget ax.

The Senate committee also voted to cut $125 million from the Army's Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 2 developed by General Dynamics Corp. "due to delays in development of Point of Presence and Soldier Network Extension components," $88 million from the Army's Joint Tactical Radio System, and $81 million for projects related to the transfer of Marines to Guam, among other programs.

The full Senate probably won't begin debating the bill until this fall, after which a Senate-House conference committee will start negotiations to resolve the differences and finalize the legislation.

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