WASHINGTON — The US Air Force announced it will try to retire the A-10 Warthog fleet in its fiscal 2016 budget request. And once again, a top member of the Senate Armed Services Committee is rallying opposition to the move.
Just hours after the service unveiled its budget plan, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., released a statement pledging to fight against the retirement of the Warthog.
"I am deeply disappointed that the Air Force has again decided to seek the premature divestment of the A-10, despite the fact that A-10s are actively engaged in combat against ISIS — demonstrating the continued need for this effective and reliable aircraft," Ayotte said in a statement released by her office Monday.
"In order to ensure our ground troops have the best close air support they need to accomplish their missions and return home safely, I will continue to oppose the Air Force's proposal to divest the A-10 before an equally capable close air support aircraft achieves full operational capability," the statement continued.
In its fiscal 2016 budget documents, the service said it will attempt to retire all active duty A-10s this year, with units attached to Guard and Reserve groups retired by the end of 2019. Congress blocked retirement of the A-10 in 2015.
Maj. Gen. Jim Martin, Air Force deputy assistant secretary for budget, told reporters Monday afternoon that retiring the A-10 would save "about $4.2 billion" over the next five years.
Ayotte's opposition to retiring the A-10 is not a surprise, as she has been the most vocal critic of the service's desire to stop using the fleet of jets, best known for its role as a close air support plane that can go low and slow above enemies on the ground.
And if the Air Force could not find a way to retire the A-10 last year, it may have a tougher path now that Ayotte is no longer in the minority. Congressional analysts view her as particularly close with Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the newly-seated SASC chairman, who has also been vocal on the A-10 issue.
Ayotte also picked up an ally in the House in the form of freshman GOP Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona. McSally, a retired Air Force colonel with 325 combat hours flying the A-10 in Iraq and Afghanistan, made protecting Arizona's collection of Warthogs a key election issue and has already sent letters to President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel pledging to fight for the jet.
The Warthog has been valuable in recent operations, with the service saying it has performed 11 percent of anti-ISIS sorties between Aug. and mid-Jan. Notably, the A-10 did not join operations until mid-November, roughly three months after strikes began against IS targets in August.