By Richard Sisk
The Pentagon renewed its commitment Friday to retiring the Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt ground attack aircraft and closing excess military bases in the U.S., setting up another battle with Congress in budget hearings to begin next month.
Congress last year rejected the Air Force’s push to mothball the A-10, popularly known as the Warthog, and the Pentagon’s proposal to establish a new Base Re-Alignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) but Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said both issues would be a top priority for the Defense Department in hearings on the 2016 defense budget.
“Nothing changes about our desire to retire the aircraft,” Kirby said at a Pentagon news conference.
A-10s were recently sent to the Middle East to join in airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) but “the fact that the aircraft is flying combat missions” will not alter the stance of the Defense Department and the Air Force on retiring the A-10s as F-35 Joint Strike Fighters come on line, Kirby said.
The House and Senate last year rejected the Pentagon’s arguments and secured funding for the A-10s through 2015 in the National Defense and Authorization Act that was passed in December.
Also last month, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that the A-10 would be part of the Air Force inventory for years to come.
On a Dec. 19 visit to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, McCain said “the A-10 is the most capable air-to-ground weapon system that is in the entire inventory. I think they will be with us for an extended period of time.”
Davis-Monthan is home to about 80 A-10s, or about one-third of the Air Force fleet of Warthogs.
Kirby also acknowledged that the Pentagon will get strong push back from Congress on base closings.
All Senators and Representatives are reluctant to go along with any plan that would shutter bases in their districts or states, Kirby said, but “we want to work with Congress to affect another round of BRAC.
Earlier, John Conger, the acting assistant Defense secretary for installations, said “I believe that doing another BRAC round is simply good government.”
Kirby estimated that 25 percent of the military’s infrastructure in the U.S. was excess and Conger told the Hill newspaper that getting rid of the excess was crucial “during these tough fiscal times as we’re reducing force structure. There are savings to be had that will ease the burden on the budget.”
There have been five previous rounds of BRAC which have generated savings of $12 billion, according to the Pentagon, but Congress disputes the numbers.
Kirby said the plan to push for a BRAC round on U.S. bases was unrelated to the announcement Thursday that the Defense Department would be closing more than a dozen bases In Europe for a projected savings of $500 million.