The House Armed Service Committee on Wednesday night gave the A-10 aircraft at least one more year of life after the Air Force and the White House both called for the mothballing of the aging aircraft to save money.
More than 80 of the planes are based at Tucson’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Thousands of military and civilian jobs are assigned to supporting the plane.
The House Armed Services Committee approved a heavily amended version of the Defense Authorization Act, including one more year of funding for the A-10. The vote was 41-20. More than a dozen Republicans voted to keep the plane in the air including Phoenix area Rep. Trent Franks.
Armed Services Committee Chair, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-California, suggested putting the more than 300 A-10s in temporary storage.
Rep. Ron Barber, D-Arizona, co-sponsored an amendment for the A-10, proposing a shift of $635 million in military funding for the airplane. Barber acknowledged the planes are old but are a favorite of ground troops who find themselves in need of close air support.
“While I support the modernization of the Air Force it cannot be at the expense of the only proven Close Air Support that we have.” Barber said troop safety should be a top priority, “We cannot create a gap in this capability because it will put our ground troops at risk.”
Barber’s proposal will move money from a Department of Defense fund used to bring equipment back to the US from overseas. Opponents of Barber’s plan said that was a bad idea.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, a former combat helicopter pilot, traveled to Southern Arizona last year to visit the VA Center at the University of Arizona with Barber. She told the committee she felt it was more important to give ground troops the support of the A-10 they need so they can come home safely than spend money to bring equipment stateside.
Barber’s proposal also calls for an independent evaluation of planes the Air Force uses to carry out the close air support mission.
The newest A-10s stationed at Davis-Monthan were built in the 1980s.
The House Armed Services Committee also approved an amendment preventing the Army from transferring Apache attack helicopters from National Guard units to the active duty Army.
In Southern Arizona, that transfer would have meant the loss of two dozen of the helicopters and their crews, which are based in Marana.
“At times during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Guard provided over 51% of the Army’s total combat power in Iraq.” Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Illinois, a former Adjutant General with the Illinois National Guard said, ”with the loss of the Apache to the active Army, the Guard would no longer have that strategic depth or the surge capacity in that critical area of attack aviation.”
Arizona Guard officials estimated that losing the Apache helicopters would cost the state more than 300 jobs, mostly in Marana.