Senate Republicans at the forefront of defending the A-10 Warthog from retirement will continue pressing their case on Thursday when they gather on Capitol Hill with veterans pushing the Air Force to keep the fleet alive.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, expected to chair the Senate Armed Services Committee starting in January, will be joined by other GOP members of the committee and two former airmen whose job was to call in close air support – the primary mission of the A-10.
The lawmakers’ move comes as the Air Force is trying to reach a compromise with the current Congress that would let it shut down three A-10 squadrons, or about 72 aircraft, but keep the rest of the fleet alive, according to a report by Defense News.
Air Force leaders have faced an uphill battle this past year in its bid to retire the plane, which is revered by ground troops who have counted on its powerful weaponry and accuracy to take out enemy fighters on the ground.
But with the midterm elections giving the Senate over to Republican leadership and the House’s existing GOP majority seeing a boost, the Air Force may find itself unable to retire the aircraft as many prominent Republicans have supported the fleet.
In the latest lobbying effort to retire the A-10, the commander of the Joint Strike Fighter, an Air Force general, said keeping the A-10 fleet operational will risk further delay to the F-35 by making unavailable hundreds of maintainers now responsible for the A-10.
“You have to have about 1,100 maintainers by 2016 to man and maintain those airplanes,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the JSF program manager, said last month. “What I’ve learned is a combination of those 1,100 people includes new trainees and experienced maintainers from other platforms to include the A-10. If we don’t get rid of the A-10, then you don’t get experienced maintainers”
But lawmakers, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, an A-10 advocate who may be the next chairwoman of the Senate Armed Service Committee’s readiness panel, are not buying that.
“Suggesting that we must prematurely retire the A-10 to fulfill long-anticipated maintenance requirements for the F-35A is a false choice,” Ayotte told Breaking Defense’s Colin Clark last week.
Former Tactical Air Controller Charlie Keebaugh, president of the Tactical Air Control Party Association, and retired TACP Master Sgt. Tim Stamey, a Silver Star recipient for combat in Afghanistan, are slated to appear with McCain, Ayotte and other lawmakers on Thursday to defend the A-10.
The TACPs serve alongside soldiers and Marines as joint tactical air controllers to call in airpower against enemy troops and positions. The A-10 has earned a reputation among infantry and TACPs for its ability to get in close to destroy the enemy with low risk of harming friendly troops.
The TACP Association on Tuesday extended an invitation to its members via a Facebook posting to turn out for the event “to continue to support efforts to save the A-10.”
In April, a number of TACPs interviewed by PBS were adamant that the A-10 remains an important weapons system for providing close air support to ground troops actively engaged in combat.
While most of the airmen spoke on background, retired Chief Master Sgt. Russell Carpenter, a 30-year veteran, told the network in an email that JTACS believe “the idea of retiring the A-10 is ‘F—ed up,’”
“I have had dozens of them tell me … that retiring the A-10 is going to cost lives of our Army brothers and sisters,” Carpenter wrote.
Other lawmakers to be on hand for the event are Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina; Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia; and Reps. Vickie Hartzler, R-Missouri; Austin Scott, R-Georgia and Ron Barber, D-Arizona.
Democrat congressman Barber’s legislation to prevent the Air Force from retiring the A-10s passed in the House earlier this year. Arizona, along with Georgia and Missouri, is home to A-10 squadrons.