The Air Force has proposed cutting its fleet of A-10 attack aircraft in fiscal 2015 in order to save money. (Wikimedia Commons)
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WASHINGTON — Senate Armed Services Committee members have cobbled together a plan to keep the US Air Force’s A-10 attack planes flying for another year.
Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters on Tuesday that he and other panel members who want to block the service’s plans to retire the fleet to save money have found hundreds of millions in budgetary offsets to keep the venerable attack planes flying.
The full committee will decide the A-10’s fate when it meets this week to mark up the panel’s version of the 2015 authorization bill. Levin said the plan will be offered as an amendment to the chairman’s mark, which will be the starting point of the panel’s behind-closed-doors work.
“We’re staying within” the base Pentagon budget to find the offsets, Levin said, adding no funds were taken from the military’s overseas contingency operations accounts.
Lawmakers and aides have said that $400 million in offsets would be needed in fiscal 2015 to block the Air Force’s plans to retire the aircraft.
Levin said the proposed funds would be shifted from “multiple sources” within the annual Defense Department budget.
The move would put Levin at odds with the Obama White House.
In a Monday statement threatening a veto of the House Armed Services Committee’s version of the bill, the White House objected to language that blocked the A-10 retirement plan.
“Divesting the A-10 will save over $4.2 billion through [fiscal] 2019,” the White House said. “The joint force will retain several multi-mission aircraft capable of performing the close-air support [CAS] mission.”
The House Armed Services Committee-approved A-10 provision prohibits retiring the attack planes until the US comptroller general makes a number of certifications and completes several studies, including a report to evaluate all Air Force platforms that are used for CAS missions.
The comptroller general also would be required to assess the cost per plane for conducting CAS missions, such as whether other aircraft are able to successfully perform CAS missions, and the capabilities of each plane used in that role.
If the Senate panel approves the A-10 plan, it would be a victory for the “Three Amigos,” the defense-focused faction of GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel appreciates the work by Congress on DoD’s 2015 budget plan, but noted it is still early in the legislatvie process.
“[Hagel] stands firmly behind the tough decisions that were made in that budget proposal, decisions that he believes are necessary to preserve our military edge in a very difficult fiscal environment,” Kirby said during a briefing Tuesday at the Pentagon. “So I expect that you'll be hearing more from the secretary and from other senior leaders in the department on this in the weeks and months to come.” ■
Marcus Weisgerber contributed to this report.