After months of impassioned pleas from troops on the ground, hand-wringing from Air Force leadership, and a blur of questions from Congress about the Air Force’s plans for the future, lawmakers have decided enough is enough: the A-10 Thunderbolt II will stay in the USAF arsenal.
On Monday, The House Armed Services Committee released its $612 billion Fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which contains a provision called “Prohibition on Availability of Funds for Retirement of A-10 Aircraft,” which obliges the Secretary of the Air Force to:
“commission an appropriate entity outside the Department of Defense to conduct an assessment of the required capabilities or mission platform to replace the A-10 aircraft.”
This means the Air Force’s can no longer ignore Congressional concerns about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and how it can fill the A-10’s close-air support (CAS) role. The provision in the new defense budget means the Air Force will have to actually hire an independent researcher from outside of DoD and acquire hard data on how to replace the A-10, instead of just asserting everything is fine and forcing Airmen to say nice things about the $1.5 trillion F-35.
In the meantime, the Air Force must maintain a mission-capable 171 A-10s and Congress provides $467 million for it in the 2016 bill.
The John Q. Public blog, run by retired Air Force officer Tony Carr, went through the ten paragraphs of the Congressional directive in detail, where Congress list the ways the A-10 bests the F-35 (without mentioning the F-35), directing the Air Force to study and answer for things like the “ability to remain within visual range of friendly forces and targets to facilitate responsiveness to ground forces and minimize re-attack times … the ability to operate beneath low cloud ceilings, at low speeds, and within the range of typical air defenses found in enemy maneuver units … the ability to deliver multiple lethal firing passes and sustain long loiter endurance to support friendly forces throughout extended ground engagements.”
Not only does the provision make the Air Force answerable for attempting to shelve its only CAS solution, it also takes back a compromise between the service and Congress made last year, which allows the Air Force to mothball 36 A-10s and move their maintenance and funding to other areas.
The House of Representatives issued a fact sheet specifically slamming the Air Force for trying to kill the A-10 with an adequate replacement.
“Rigorous oversight, endorsements from Soldiers and Marines about the protection only the A-10 can provide, and repeated deployments in support of OIR have persuaded many Members from both parties that the budget-driven decision to retire the A-10 is misguided…” it reads. “The NDAA restores funding for the A-10 and prohibits its retirement. Unlike past efforts to restore the platform, the NDAA identifies specific funding to restore personnel, and preserve, the A-10 fleet.”
While this sounds like good news for A-10 supporters, the fight isn’t over yet. According to DoD Buzz, Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said he is recommending President Obama veto the bill, which is being voted on by the House on Thursday.