A pair of Air Force A-10 Thunderbolts fly near a KC-135 Stratotanker during an aerial refueling mission. (Tech. Sgt. Jeff Walston/Air Force)
The US House of Representatives on Thursday evening, during deliberation on the fiscal 2015 defense spending bill, voted to block the US Air Force’s plan to cut the entire A-10 fleet.
The chamber approved the an amendment, offered by Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., that would prohibit the Defense Department from using money to divest, retire, transfer or place in storage any A-10 aircraft, along with blocking the department from preparing to cut any of the aircraft.
The vote is the latest in a monthslong battle between the Defense Department and Congress on the future of the aging, popular aircraft. The Air Force has said it would save about $3.7 billion by cutting all 283 of the attack aircraft.
The service’s plan would replace the A-10 mission in Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units with F-15, F-16 or C-130 missions. Active-duty units at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, and Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, would not get a replacement mission.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told reporters Wednesday that while the A-10 is a “terrific aircraft,” it is a single-mission aircraft whose mission can be covered by other aircraft. The service still has time to convince Congress that its plan is the best course of action, she said.
“We have to continue to get our message out, we need to continue to explain that we have to move on, that we have these other missions that we need most of the units to do with other aircraft,” James said. “They’re more enduring, they’re more important for our future, and if you do not agree with us, Congress, at the end of the day, please give us the money.”
The proposal has met harsh opposition since it was first introduced, with opponents in both the House and Senate vowing to block it.
The House already approved the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which included an amendment to block the A-10 retirement plans. Language in the bill states that the U.S. comptroller general would make multiple certifications and complete studies on the impact of retiring the A-10.
The Senate Armed Services Committee, in its markup of the authorization bill, also prohibits the retirement of the A-10, along with plans to cut any Airborne Warning and Control Aircraft.
The House on Thursday also approved an amendment from Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., that blocks any funds from being used to cut KC-10 Extender refueling aircraft. The service has said it would need to cut all KC-10s if forced to make extensive budget cuts under continued sequestration.
Runyan said on the floor that the retirement of the KC-10 would be “completely unacceptable” before the next-generation tanker, the KC-46A Pegasus, comes on line in 2017.