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Old A-10 and New F-35 Both Win in Spending Deal


U.S. lawmakers late Tuesday unveiled a $1 trillion federal budget deal that benefits both fourth- and fifth-generation fighter jets, even the Vietnam-era A-10 aircraft.

The massive spending bill, called the Omnibus Appropriations Act, would avert a government shutdown this week and fund most federal agencies for the rest of the year, including the Defense Department.

The defense appropriations piece of the legislation includes an estimated $8.8 billion for 38 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters made by Lockheed Martin Corp. That's four more of the fifth-generation, single-engine stealth fighters than the Pentagon requested for fiscal 2015, which began Oct. 1.

At the same time, the bill adds $1.5 billion for 15 EA-18G Growlers, a derivative of the fourth-generation twin-engine F/A-18F Super Hornet made by Boeing Co. The Navy didn't ask for any of the electronic attack planes in its formal budget request.

The sea service did, however, include 22 of them on its so-called "unfunded priorities list," which was circulated widely on Capitol Hill, thanks in part to lobbyists at the Chicago-based aerospace giant.

Boeing launched a massive lobbying campaign to preserve funding for EA-18G, which it argued is better equipped than the F-35 for operating in areas with sophisticated enemy air defenses, known in military parlance as anti-access, area-denial, or A2-AD, environments. (Lockheed defended the F-35's stealth power as "unprecedented.")

Boeing also warned that without additional funding for the planes, it would be forced to close its production line in St. Louis. Shortly thereafter, Missouri Reps. Ann Wagner, a Republican, and Lacy Clay, a Democrat, urged colleagues to sign a letter asking leaders of the congressional defense committees to add funding for the planes.

Even older-generation aircraft gained in the budget deal.

Lawmakers included some $337 million in funding for the A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft, a slow, low-flying gunship more commonly known as the Warthog. The Air Force had proposed scrapping its fleet of almost 300 of the planes, whose snub-nose packs a 30mm cannon designed to destroy tanks and other ground targets.

But lawmakers disagreed with the idea -- at least for another year. While they did allow the Air Force to move as many as 36 of the planes to back-up status, they blocked the service from sending any of the planes to the bone yard.

Even the Pentagon itself seems conflicted over the A-10: Months after officials argued that the plane is no longer needed for close air support — a mission they said can be performed by such aircraft as the stealthy, single-engine F-35 fighter — the military deployed a squadron-sized element of Warthogs from Afghanistan to the Middle East to fight militants affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

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