Boise & Garden City

Idaho senators join in signing letters seeking continuation of A-10 fighter until replacement is ready

Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch joined several other senators in urging leaders of the Armed Services and Appropriations committees to stall retirement of the close air support fighter before the replacement F-35 stealth fighter is fully operational.

In a letter to Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Arizona, and ranking Democratic member Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the 11 senators ask for the 2016 defense authorization bill to provide continued funding for the A-10 Thunderbolt and prohibit the jet’s demise.

“There is an overwhelming consensus among our ground troops, special operators and (combat) controllers that the A-10 is the Air Force’s best close air support aircraft and that it provides close air support capabilities that no other current aircraft can,” the letter read. “For that reason, we remain concerned that if the Air Force is permitted to prematurely divest the A-10 before an equally capable replacement reaches full operational capability, the quality of close air support available to our ground forces will decline and Americans will be killed and injured unnecessarily.”

The Idaho senators were joined by Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte in signing the letters. Ayotte has been a vocal opponent of the move by the Air Force to retire the 1970s-era A-10, commonly known as the Warthog. Others who signed were Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Republican Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

In February, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and other state and local officials urged Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James to retain a flying mission at Gowen Field even if the A-10, used by the Idaho Air National Guard, is retired. James toured Gowen Field and Mountain Home Air Force Base during a two-day visit to Idaho.

The Air Force wants to mothball the 1970s-era attack plane and move to the more advanced F-35 stealth fighter. Otter and other officials, including Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, emphasized to James what they said was the importance of not sending the A-10s to the scrapyard before the F-35, which has been beset by budget problems and technical issues, is ready to fly.

The senators who signed the letters urged committee leaders to support up to $737 million in funding for the A-10 mission. With a proposed Air Force budget of $122 billion, “it is not difficult to identify offsets for A-10 funding,” the letter said.