Pentagon to Continue Funding A-10

By Jon Harper
Photo Credit: Defense Dept.

The Defense Department has abandoned plans to divest itself of the A-10 Thunderbolt II in the near term, ensuring that the close-air support platform will remain in service until at least 2022.

In recent years, Pentagon leaders have tried to kill the aircraft as a cost-saving measure while the Air Force’s attention has been focused on the fifth-generation F-35 joint strike fighter and other top acquisition priorities.

But the ongoing U.S. air campaign against the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIL or ISIS, coupled with the fact that the F-35A has yet to achieve initial operational capability, has breathed new life into the A-10.

“We’re …  investing to maintain more of our fourth-generation fighter and attack jets than we previously planned — including the A-10, which has been devastating ISIL from the air,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced in February during a preview of the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2017 budget request. “The budget defers the A-10’s final retirement until 2022, replacing it with F-35s on a squadron-by-squadron basis so we’ll always have enough aircraft for today’s conflicts.”

Keeping the aircraft in service will cost $3.4 billion over the next five years, including about $900 million in fiscal year 2017, according to Maj. Gen. James Martin Jr., Air Force deputy assistant secretary for budget.

To pay for it the service is shifting funding from F-35 acquisitions, fourth-generation fighter modernization and sustainment programs, the Air Force told National Defense.

Influential lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who fought to protect the plane from the budget ax, applauded the Pentagon’s decision.

Carter’s announcement “represents a welcome and overdue victory,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said in a statement. “As ISIS has learned firsthand, the A-10 represents our nation’s most effective and lethal close-air support aircraft. It has been my honor to lead the fight in Congress on behalf of our ground troops and joint terminal attack controllers.”

SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., lauded the decision to replace the A-10 with the F-35 on a squadron-by-squadron basis, and said it would prevent a “capability gap” from emerging.

“I look forward to seeing our A-10 pilots continue to make important advances in the fight against ISIL in the Middle East, boosting NATO’s efforts to deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, and supporting vital missions for U.S. national security wherever they are needed,” he said in a statement.

Ayotte has argued that the joint strike fighter is not up to snuff for carrying out the types of missions currently conducted by the Thunderbolt II. She vowed to “prevent the Air Force from prematurely retiring the cost-effective and combat-proven A-10 … until an equally capable replacement is fully operational.”

“We should now get to work on the development and procurement of an aircraft that can eventually replace the A-10 and provide even better close-air-support capabilities for our troops,” she said. “Technology will continue to advance and threats will continue to evolve, but our ground troops will always need effective, lethal and precise close-air support.”

Topics: Aviation, Defense Department, DOD Budget

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