Arizona Sen. John McCain credits the fight against the ISIS terror group for postponing the retirement of the military’s A-10 Thunderbolt II jet, which has a huge presence at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
The Pentagon will delay until 2022 its plan to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack jet, a mainstay at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Tuesday.
During a preview of the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2017 budget request at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., Carter said the agency’s requested $582.7 billion defense budget defers the final retirement of the A-10 “Warthog” until 2022, replacing it with F-35 Joint Strike Fighters “squadron by squadron.”
The Pentagon’s formal 2017 budget request is due out next week.
The proposed retirement of the A-10 has been a contentious issue in Congress, which for the last two budget years has blocked the Air Force’s plan to retire about 300 remaining A-10s — including more than 80 in three squadrons at D-M — by 2019.
A-10 supporters including Arizona Sen. John McCain, R-Phoenix, and Rep. Martha McSally, a Tucson Republican and former A-10 combat pilot, have argued that there is no ready replacement for the A-10 for persistent close air support, and that retiring the plane would put American troops at risk.
In a news release, McCain called Carter’s announcement “a credit to the brave airmen from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and military installations across the country who are providing unmatched close-air support in critical missions throughout the world.”
McCain said the plan to replace the A-10s squadron-by-squadron will avoid “a capability gap as we confront a complex array of conflicts and crises.”
Further details on the new A-10 retirement timetable weren’t immediately available.
McSally said the A-10 has been instrumental in the battle against Islamic State militants, in Europe where it was deployed to reassure and train U.S. allies amid increased Russian aggression, and in South Korea against North Korean belligerence.
But she noted that even 2022 represents an early retirement for the A-10, after the Pentagon spent about $1 billion on upgraded electronics and stronger wings to keep the Warthog flying until 2028.
"No other plane can perform the tasks for which the A-10 is uniquely suited and no other weapon system we have has the same ability to protect troops’ lives on the ground," McSally said in a prepared statement. "I’ll continue to lead the fight to ensure we keep the A-10 until a suitable alternative yet to be identified is developed, tested, and proven to do the mission.”
Carter said also said the department is requesting $7.5 billion, 50 percent more than in 2016, to deal with the accelerated military campaign against ISIL.
Of that, he said $1.8 billion will go to buy more than 45,000 GPS-guided smart bombs and laser-guided rockets, the Pentagon said in a news release.