May 30 (Bloomberg) -- Supporters of the A-10 warplane were rebuffed today as a U.S. House panel approved a defense spending measure that would let the Air Force retire the 1970s-era combat aircraft.
The move by the appropriations subcommittee added to uncertainty over the Air Force’s plan to retire all 283 of the planes to save $4.2 billion over five years in a time of declining military spending.
The spending measure conflicts with provisions to save the A-10 in the separate defense policy bills passed by the House and approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee. The push to save the A-10 is being led by veterans who say it saved the lives of soldiers in ground combat during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as lawmakers representing bases where the planes are stationed and pilots are trained.
“This action doesn’t just fail one aircraft program, it fails the men and women on the ground who rely on the protection of its close-air support capabilities,” Democrat Representative Ron Barber said in a statement. About 83 of the planes, known as the Warthog, are stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in his Tucscon-based district.
While differing on the A-10, the appropriations panel echoed moves in the House and Senate policy bills by adding hundreds of millions of dollars to preserve Boeing Co.’s St. Louis production line for the radar-jamming EA-18 G Growler, an electronic warfare aircraft, and to overhaul of the USS George Washington, an aircraft carrier.
The House defense appropriators would provide $975 million for 12 radar-jamming Growlers that the Pentagon didn’t request and almost $800 million for the refueling of the George Washington.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said the overhaul of the carrier by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. based in Newport News, Virginia, may have to be called off, reducing the U.S. carrier fleet to 10 ships, if the budget-cutting process called sequestration resumes in full force as planned in fiscal 2016.
The bill, approved by the defense panel behind closed doors and by voice vote with no amendments, would provide for $491 billion in discretionary spending for Pentagon programs under the panel’s jurisdiction in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. That would be $4.1 billion more than enacted in fiscal year 2014 and $200 million more than the president’s request, according to a statement by the committee.
The panel also proposes $79.4 billion for war operations. The Pentagon has yet to send a detailed request for war funding.
The spending measure hands some victories to defense companies. It would allot $2.4 billion for 87 UH-60 Black Hawks built by Sikorsky, a unit of United Technologies Corp. The Army requested $1.4 billion for 79 Black Hawks -- 55 UH-60Ms and 24 HH-60Ms.
Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp. also would see a boost to its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. The panel proposes funding 38 planes in fiscal 2015, four more than 34 that the Pentagon requested.
Oklahoma’s House delegation also scored a victory: Tinker Air Force Base in the state would get a chance to keep its seven Boeing E-3 Airborne Warning and Control system aircraft that the Air Force wants to retire.
The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship program would take a hit under the spending bill. It would provide funding for two of the shore-hugging vessels instead of the three requested by the Navy. The ships are made by Lockheed and Henderson, Australia-based Austal Ltd.
Preserving the A-10 will be one of the high-profile fights when the full House Appropriations Committee acts on the defense spending bill.
The Arizona, Georgia, Missouri and Utah delegations all have stakes in the A-10 to keep military activity or maintenance work in their states.
Representative Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican who serves on the defense appropriations panel, said he’s working on an amendment to save the A-10 by finding money from the Pentagon’s war operations fund. The House Armed Services Committee used the same maneuver in its version of the policy-setting bill.
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