The Warthog and the Senator: The Policy of Warplane Withdrawal

A pair of U.S. Air Force A-10A Thunderbolt II jets, also known as the Warthog, fly in an undated file photo. REUTERS / US Air Force / File Photo

WASHINGTON, July 16 (Reuters) – The US Air Force is desperate to get rid of part of its fleet of expensive, slow, and obsolete A-10 Warthog jets, but politicians have blocked the move, in an attempt to maintain the flow of local dollars.

President Joe Biden wants to withdraw dozens of 40-year-old warplanes to free up funds to modernize the military. But weeks after its defense budget proposal was released, Democrats drafted legislation to keep planes, many of which are based in Arizona, where Sen. Mark Kelly is eligible for re-election in 2022.

The A-10 negotiations, which the Air Force has wanted to withdraw for more than two decades, show the important steps Democrats will take to protect their slim majority in the Senate.

Having military planes based in a constituency brings enormous economic benefits. The A-10 fleet at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson is considered vital to the base, which contributes an estimated $ 3 billion to the local economy and is among the region’s top employers, said the former Mayor of Tucson, Thomas Volgy.

Kelly wrote to the Senate Appropriations Committee on July 9 asking for $ 272 million “to restore all funding for the A-10 program” in fiscal year 2022 and $ 615 million to purchase new wings to renew the part of the A-10 fleet that had been reserved. for retirement.

He also spoke with Democratic Senator Jack Reed, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who in turn banned all A-10 retirements in his National Defense Authorization Bill. of 2022, an annual law that defines defense policy, two sources close to the case told Reuters.

The NDAA is far from becoming law, but the elements added by the President in the draft are difficult to remove or weaken with an amendment.

Democrats hold a slim 50-50 Senate majority thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ decisive vote, meaning they can’t afford to lose even a single seat in the chamber.

Kelly faces up to seven potential Republican contenders in the race to retain her seat. Putting about a fifth of the A-10 fleet to sleep would be a significant symbolic blow that local officials said would foreshadow a longer-term plan to phase out planes entirely – and could weaken Kelly’s candidacy.

“We all know the A-10 had been on the chopping block for some time. It took a Herculean effort on the part of elected officials to keep the A-10 in Air Force inventory,” said Volgy.

Kelly opposes “the retreat of the A-10s without proper replacement to carry out the close air support mission which is essential to our national security and the protection of US troops,” a spokesperson told Reuters.

The A-10 has been on the chopping block for many years because it is old – it was first deployed in 1976 – and because it competes with attack helicopters for the best means of provide air support to frontline troops.

While the Air Force plans to install a larger contingent of military personnel at the base once the A-10s retire – eclipsing the economic fallout from putting the planes on hold – Kelly could be blamed for leaving some planes come under his surveillance.

Kelly is considered one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats heading for re-election in 2022, along with Georgian Raphael Warnock.

Former astronaut and husband of gun control activist Gabrielle Giffords defeated Republican Senator Martha McSally in a special election last November. But he is running for re-election next year as he completes the tenure of the late Republican Senator John McCain, who also supported the maintenance of the A-10 fleet before his death in 2018.

The funds saved by removing the planes would go to the Air Force

modernization projects such as the development of hypersonic weapons. At the same time, Air Force Lt. Gen. David Nahom told a House hearing this week that if the number of A-10s was not reduced this year, the Air Force would face a shortage of mechanics for newer aircraft.

Volgy, currently a professor at the University of Arizona, said the issue was not just about the A-10, “but ensuring Davis-Monthan remains stable.”

Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; Editing by Chris Sanders and Dan Grebler

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