An Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee hearing Thursday went from being a Aaron Sorkin teleplay, written by a high school sophomore honors English teacher, to an explosive drama in which the Air Force brass was taken to task for its proposal to mothball the A-10.
Unexpectedly, Senator John McCain was the protagonist in Thursday’s fight to save the A-10. Senator Kelly Ayotte, who has been a fearless defender of the plane, opened the melodrama with the same steady delivery of the facts about the slow and low flying aircraft that has saved the lives of so many troops on the ground.
Ayotte led Thursday’s hearing with Senator Shaheen, the subcommittee chairman. Deborah Lee James Secretary of the Air Force, and Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Mark A. Welsh III, testified as to the posture of the Department of the Air Force in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2015 and the future of defense programs.
The duo attempted to sell the senators on the idea that in order to adequately fight “a full spectrum fight” the Air Force not only had “a lot of other airplanes that do close air support that can do those other important things” but the costly and repeatedly delayed F-35 is an adequate replacement.
McCain left the chamber during the testimony of Welsh, and returned after the questioning by his fellow Committee members. McCain appeared to be very angry.
In front of the room of A-10 pilots and current and retired Air Force members, McCain whose silence on the matter had been deafening spoke loud and clear, “We are going to do away with the finest close air support weapon in history?” he said at the news conference. “And we are then going to have some kind of nebulous idea of a replacement with an airplane that costs at least 10 times as much — and the cost is still growing — with the F-35? That’s ridiculous. That’s absolutely ridiculous,” snapped McCain.
After the hearing, Arizona Congressman Ron Barber joined Senator Ayotte, his republican challenger Chuck Wooten, a USAF Command Chief Master Sergeant (Retired), USAF, House members representing other A-10 bases, and the A-10 pilots for a press conference.
Noticeably absent was the remainder of Arizona’s Congressional caucus. Barber has been unable to lead his fellow Arizona House members in the fight for the A-10.
Still, Barber has been a staunch advocate for the Warthog and Davis Monthan Air Force base which is located in his Tucson district.
On Thursday, Barber called the president’s proposal to retire the plane an “irresponsible” threat to the safety of American ground troops.
“The retirement of the A-10 would be an irresponsible move by the president because it would endanger the vital mission of close air support.” Barber, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said “ I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fight the administration and keep the A-10 flying.”
Wooten said, “It was a privilege to attend the Air Force’s posturing hearing with the esteemed members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. I attended so I could get first-hand, factual information on this critical issue to our community. Now that I have heard from both sides, I am well-qualified to lead and energize Tucson to lend a collective voice to our legislative proponents and stop the divestiture of the Warthog.”
Lt. Col. William E. “Smitty” Smith Jr., USAF/ANG (Ret.), who had more than 3,000 hours as an A-10 pilot including 128 combat sorties, Chief MSgt. Russell B. Carpenter, USAF (Ret.), who served 30 years in the Air Force and controlled 67 combat air strikes, also spoke in praise of the A-10 .
Also on Thursday, Barber hosted a briefing on close air support detailing the A-10’s superior capabilities for his colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee.
Before the press conference Barber questioned Gen. Larry O. Spencer, vice chief of staff of the Air Force, about the proposal to retire the A-10. Barber’s aggressive defense of the plane came during a hearing of the Readiness Subcommittee of the Armed Service Committee.
Barber focused on last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, in which Barber worked with Hartzler as well as other Republicans and Democrats, to prohibit the Air Force from taking any steps to retire the A-10 during 2014.
“It has since been reported that the Air Force may have not allotted any flight hours for the A-10 weapons school, canceled A-10 modernization and ended the normal sustainment process for FY2015, which begins October 1,” Barber told Spencer. “This would clearly demonstrate complete disregard for the congressional intent of the law.”