The A-10, a 1970s-era combat plane known as the Warthog, would be saved from Pentagon plans for elimination for at least a year under a defense policy measure approved by the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.
After a session of more than 12 hours, the panel voted 61-0 early today to approve a bill authorizing $496 billion in discretionary Defense Department spending in fiscal 2015 and an additional $79.4 billion for war operations. The House is scheduled to take up the measure the week of May 19.
“There’s nobody on this committee that thinks we have enough money,” Committee Chairman Howard ‘Buck’ McKeon said yesterday. The California Republican said his goal is to “hold on to as much of the stuff and as much of the training as we can” to preserve the military’s readiness for war.
The committee sought to block the Defense Department’s plan to retire all 238 of the Air Force’s A-10s to save $4.2 billion over five years in a time of budget cuts. Combat veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have said newer, sleeker planes can’t perform as well as the ungainly Warthog to protect help troops in close combat.
The provision adopted by the panel would fully fund the operation, maintenance and upgrading of the A-10 fleet in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, using war operations funds. The panel rejected a proposal by McKeon to put the A-10 fleet in storage while maintaining the planes so that they could be used again if needed.
The amendment was sponsored by Arizona Democrat Ron Barber, Missouri Republican Vicky Hartzler and Georgia Republican Austin Scott, all of whose districts benefit from A-10 operations.
The committee also adopted an amendment to bar the Pentagon from mothballing the U.S. Navy’s guided-missile cruisers and amphibious landing dock ships.
The Navy wants to sideline 11 Ticonderoga-class cruisers, at a projected savings of about $4 billion over five years, with plans to upgrade the ships in the future.
The bill also would forbid the military from doing anything to get ready for retirement Lockheed Martin Corp.’s U-2 spy plane, as the Pentagon intends to do in 2016. The provision would ask the Defense Department to report to Congress by Feb. 16 on ways to mitigate decreased capabilities for high-altitude reconnaissance and surveillance resulting from the U-2.
Those were among numerous provisions that would complicate the Pentagon’s cost-savings plans. The committee rejected proposals to have military members pay more out-of-pocket for off-base housing and to increase health-care expenses for military families and retirees. The panel also prohibited a new round of base closings.
The measure would bar the Army from reducing its force too fewer than 490,000 in fiscal 2015 and the National Guard and Reserve to fewer than 350,000.
The committee also moved to block Pentagon’s plan to transfer all Boeing Co. Apache attack helicopters from the National Guard to regular Army units over objections from the Guard and its supporters.
The Army projects it would save about $12 billion by shifting about 100 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to the Guard and using the Apaches to replace OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters for Army combat missions.
Governors from all 50 states sent a letter to President Barack Obama earlier this year opposing the plan.
In addition to defense programs, the measure would authorize $7.9 billion in mandatory spending and $17.9 billion for national security programs under the Department of Energy.
The defense authorization bill is H.R. 4435. Senate Armed Services subcommittees are scheduled to act on their version of the measure starting on May 20.