Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 29, 2015

Air Force Tries to Save Cash, Congress Won’t Let It

An A-10 Thunderbolt is parked on a tarmac in the Czech Republic where it was taking part in joint NATO military exercises in 2012.   AFP PHOTO/ RADEK MICA         (Radek Mica/AFP/GettyImages)

An A-10 Thunderbolt parked on a tarmac in the Czech Republic where it was taking part in joint NATO military exercises in 2012. AFP PHOTO/ RADEK MICA (Radek Mica/AFP/GettyImages)

Everywhere Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James turns to cut her budget, Congress puts up a roadblock. Trying to get rid of the A-10: “So far it’s not gone over tremendously well,” she said. A proposal to shutter bases via the Base Realignment and Closure process: “I would give that zero probability of passing this year.” The notion of slicing aircraft here and there: “That hasn’t gone over very well either.”

It leaves James with few options of her own choosing, she told defense reporters at a breakfast Wednesday, along with some alternatives she doesn’t want — and a future she views as unrealistic.

The main thing she can do is keep advancing her message, she said.

“Part of our duty is, we have to keep telling the story,” she said.

The story of the A-10, James said, is this: “We love the A-10. It’s been a terrific aircraft. Given the budget situation we face, given the age, given the survivability, given the other aircraft we have, we feel on balance it needs to be retired. It will save billions of dollars if we retire it.”

The Senate and House Armed Services panels, in their fiscal 2015 defense authorization bills, moved to block the retirement of the A-10, also known as the “Warthog,” a close-air support plane for ground forces used to attack tanks and other enemy ground targets. The House’s version of the annual defense spending bill, being considered on the floor Wednesday, did not block the Defense Department’s A-10 plans, but there could be an amendment that renews the fight to do so in that legislation.

“What we have said to the opponents of the proposal is, if we’re not allowed to retire the A-10, please, please, please you must give us the money to add back,” James said. “And by the way, when you find the money, don’t take it out of readiness. We really really need to get our readiness levels up.”

The Senate authorization bill would take the money out of operations and maintenance — which equals readiness, she said. The House authorization bill has said it should come  out of the war-related Overseas Contingency Account, but James wasn’t sure if that would hold up.

And the need for cuts is real thanks to budget caps put in place in 2011 and the related sequestration that cuts budgets across-the-board.

“Members on the defense committees are very pro-defense. There are people who still say we’re going to get rid of sequestration, it’s going to work out,” James said. “I want to be hopeful too. My job is, I’ve also got to be realistic broadly about this.”

(Side note: The Quadrennial Defense Review released this year by the department has been criticized as unrealistic for projecting spending that goes $115 billion — through fiscal 2016 to 2019 — beyond what the department could spend under current law.)

If Congress doesn’t retire the A-10, one alternative, James said, would be to “take a few aircraft here, a few aircraft there.” But, she said, “We have some of that as well in the fy15 budget. That hasn’t gone over very well either.”

While she doesn’t anticipate Congress embracing the BRAC process this year, she said the Pentagon is likely to continue making the argument.

“As a person who came out of business, the last things a corporation would do is spend money on facilities that are no longer no longer needed,” she said. “You would never, never, never run a business this way. I realize government is not a business. But there are certain principles make good common sense.”

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  1. pitch1934

    June 18, 2014
    7:41 p.m.

    What does the Air Force have that can replace the “Warthog”?

  2. J.R. Davis

    June 18, 2014
    11:49 p.m.

    If you want to win wars against armies with tanks, quickly, with minimal loss of blood and treasure, you need the A-10.

  3. Frank Oliveri

    June 19, 2014
    2:40 p.m.

    one of the big savings benefits lost when cutting a little here and a little there is that it leaves in place an entire logistical and support infrastructure that costs hundreds of millions to continue. If you go after an old plane, like the A-10, (not judging whether one should or shouldn’t) which is more expensive to maintain because the supplier base is limited for old aircraft parts, is you not only lose the aircraft costs, you lose all the costs associated with it, ie, training apparatus, suppliers, spare parts, etc. Maintaining some jets in the end costs takes from other areas, such as more modern jets or readiness or modernization.

  4. Frank Oliveri

    June 19, 2014
    2:48 p.m.

    the military increasingly relies on weapons, rather than airframes, when it comes to knocking out tanks, or providing close air support. AF Chief of Staff Gen. Welsh has argued that putting certain types of precision weapons on fast moving jets, whether it’s an F-16, and F-15E, a B-1B bomber, or F/A-18s, among others, enable them to kill tanks and provide close air support very effectively. A-10s have only flown a relatively small portion of close air support missions in Afghanistan. In the 1991 war, one of the most effective tank killers in the US arsenal was the F-111, a Vietnam era, fast-moving, somewhat maneuverable jet. Nonetheless, the A-10 is a great fighter with a very specialized capability, and it enjoys very strong support in Congress. It comes down to priorities and tradeoffs, when one considers the budget limitations.

  5. YONATAN C

    June 19, 2014
    11:43 p.m.

    THERE ARE STILL THREE MILLION UNEMPLOYED AMERICANS WHO HAVE BEEN WITHOUT AN UNEMPLOYMENT EXTENSION SINCE LAST DECEMBER. THIS WAS DIRECTLY CAUSED BY THE REPUBLICAN SENATE’S REFUSAL TO PASS THE EMERGENCY UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFIT BILL. THE REPUBLICANS HAVE UTTERLY FAILED THESE UNEMPLOYED FAMILIES, AND DESTINED THEM TO FINANCIAL RUIN AND POVERTY. MANY OF WHOM MAY NEVER RECOVER FROM. THE REPUBLICANS HAVE SHOWN A TOTAL LACK OF COMPASSION AND COMMON DECENCY TOWARDS OUR OWN PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY. THEY ARE SHAMEFUL, AND NEED TO BE VOTED FROM OFFICE

    • Richard Contreras

      June 24, 2014
      5:44 p.m.

      Dude, the Dems control the Senate in the United States. Were you thinking of some other country?

    • Ray Prescott

      June 24, 2014
      9:13 p.m.

      And why do they need such long term unemployment? Laziness, no jobs, communist at the helm?

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    June 20, 2014
    2:45 a.m.

    Among others, Darwin used Adam Smith’s work on morals, conduct, and character to develop his theories regarding biological evolution.

  7. rdlynn

    Oct. 25, 2014
    4:09 p.m.

    Weapons systems like the A-10 must be cut to save more important and productive programs such as welfare, food stamps, destruction of the medical system, mass immigration to transform America and end White Privilege, and many more programs to build the egalitarian utopian state.

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