The Fight Over the A-10 May Just Be Beginning

Photo by USAF

Despite strong provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act, as passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee, Bloomberg is reporting this morning that the Chairmen and Ranking Minority Members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee are very seriously considering an Air Force proposal to contravene the language, and money, of both bills to proceed with the "divestiture" (retirement) of the A-10 in 2015. (See Roxana Tiron's article "Levin: 'Big Four' Debating New Warthog Retirement Proposal." It was not yet on-line at the time of this writing.)

A letter sent by the Project On Government Oversight and other organizations to the Chairmen and Ranking Minority Members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees (known as the "Big Four") outlines the money and bill language in the NDAA that-technically-leaves the Big Four only very little wiggle room and that literally mandates the continuation of the A-10 inventory, as is, in 2015.

Another letter, sent by Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) to the "Big Four" also makes clear that the effort to circumvent the NDAAs' language is a serious threat.

Clearly a major fight is brewing on Capitol Hill. The fight may be around for months to come if the issue slops over to 2015 and the Chairmanship of Senator McCain at the Senate Armed Services Committee.

While virtually all observers had assumed that the lopsided 41-20 vote on May 7 2014 in the House Armed Services Committee to earmark $635 million specifically to retain the A-10, in full, in 2015 and a voice vote-reported to be virtually unanimous-in the Senate Armed Services Committee to provide less money but even more explicit language to preserve the complete A-10 inventory in all respects in 2015 would be a clear message to the Big Four. That appears not to be the case; the meaning of the Bloomberg article and the Ayotte et al. letter are clear. The Big Four are buying the Air Force's proposal to allow the Air Force to continue to retire the A-10, doing so by raiding its maintenance personnel.

The Air Force is arguing that the already years behind schedule F-35A will not meet its artificially early "initial operational capability" (IOC) date--years before initial operational testing is finished--unless the F-35A force gets A-10 maintenance personnel. In furtherance of this notion, the Air Force maintains that these maintainers cannot come from other aircraft being retired, cannot come from civilian contract personnel, and cannot come from activated Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve personnel. They can only come from the A-10 force. That the Air Force has already had 12 years to prepare for the F-35A's IOC is also a factor it wants no one to consider. (See a good article on all this here.)

The Air Force's gambit to continue its divestiture of the A-10 flies in the face of the legislative history of the NDAA (and legislative ethics), and it flies in the face of military need. The A-10 has recenty been deployed to the Middle East to support operations in Afghanistan, and I am informed that a second unit is about to deploy to support operations in Iraq and Syria.

In each of the four wars America has fought since the first Iraq war in 1991, the A-10 has performed at a spectacular level in the many combat roles the Air Force has assigned to it. We are informed of that level of performance not just from the A-10 pilots who know the airplane best, but also from Marines, Soldiers and Special Forces on the ground in close combat with our enemies, from the ground controllers who work closely with the A-10 and all other Air Force aircraft, and from the Government Accountability Office that evaluated the A-10's performance in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. As that GAO report stated, our enemies also know the A-10 all too well: when asked after the 1991 war, Iraqi prisoners stated the A-10 to be one of two aircraft they feared the most.

Senator Graham was accurate to say yesterday the people who most want to see the US get rid of the A-10 are our enemies on the battlefield. (And, of course, the Air Force and perhaps the Big Four.)

The F-35 will not be equipped and tested for the close air support role until 2021, and when--and if--it is finally certified for that mission, its capability compared to the A-10 will very seriously degrade American capability to support Soldiers and Marines engaged in combat.

The Air Force is on the wrong side of logic, ethics and military effectiveness on the A-10 issue. That it wants to drag the so-called Big Four down with it should not even be a close call. Apparently, however, it is.

This debate tells us everything we need to know-but don't want to hear-about how defense issues are considered in the Pentagon and Congress. That needs to change.