The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of blocking the Air Force from retiring the A-10 gunship next year.
The Republican-controlled chamber late Thursday approved a series of amendments to its fiscal 2015 defense spending bill, including a provision that would prohibit the Pentagon from spending any money to retire the fleet of Cold War-era aircraft.
The measure, which passed 300-114, was sponsored by Reps. Candice Miller, a Republican from Michigan, and Ron Barber, a Democrat from Arizona.
"I offer my amendment because I stand shoulder to shoulder with the troops on the ground, any one of which will tell you the champion, workhorse aircraft in theater in both Iraq and Afghanistan has been the A-10," Miller said in a statement afterward.
“It may be old, but it has proven to been ideally suited to its mission," she added. "It’s lethal, it’s incredibly effective, and when our troops on the ground hear it coming, they know what it means, and so do our enemies; it means pain is coming their way."
As part of its budget request for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, the service proposed retiring its entire fleets of A-10 attack planes and U-2 spy planes, and partial inventories of other aircraft. The recommendations were driven in a large part by automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. Sending the close-air-support aircraft to the bone yard would save an estimated $4.2 billion over five years alone, officials have said.
The passage of the amendment makes it increasingly likely that the A-10 will remain in service next year.
Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees voted to restore funding to keep the planes flying for at least another year. And while the House Appropriations Committee agreed to retire the aircraft, their colleagues easily rejected the idea.
The amendment, however, doesn't include any additional funding to keep the planes operational. So unless lawmakers come up with the money, service officials will be forced to raid other accounts in a tightening budget -- precisely what they don't want to do.
“What we’ve said to opponents of the proposal is, ‘If we’re not allowed to retire the A-10 … please, please, please, you must give us the money to add back," Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said during a breakfast with defense reporters this week. "And, by the way, when you find the money, please don’t take it out of readiness. We really, really need to get our readiness levels up."
The House is expected to vote on passage of the defense appropriations bill later today.