It looks like the A-10 is safe from Air Force budget cuts for a bit longer, as lawmakers announced that portions of the recently-passed 2015 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits the Air Force from retiring (or preparing to retire) any of the Warthog fleet for the 2015 fiscal year.
The agreement, which still has to be passed by the full House and Senate, not only prevents the A-10s from being retired, it also authorizes up to $331 million for A-10 operations and training. It does, however, allow a very limited number of aircraft (up to 36 out of almost 300) to be placed in "backup flying status" by the Secretary of Defense after an independent review of the A-10 program, and only under certain conditions.
Although many in the A-10 and Close Air Support community are happy with the decision to keep the A-10 flying through fiscal year 2015, they see the "backup flying status" as the beginning of the end for the Warthog fleet.
A Stripes.com article quotes Winslow Wheeler, the director of the Straus Military Reform Project, as saying that although A-10 should be around for the near future, this budget deal just slows down the Air Force's planned mothballing of the A-10 fleet. "It's a mixed bag at best," he said.
The reduction in A-10 flying hours, putting a few aircraft into "backup flying status" will be linked to both combat readiness, and keeping the F-35 fighter program on track and on budget. A Senate summary of the circumstances to place A-10s in backup status reads: "If the secretary of defense, after receiving an independent review by the director of the office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, determines that it would be necessary to avoid unacceptable reductions in readiness or unacceptable delays in the F-35 activation program, he may authorize the Air Force to reduce flying hours for active-duty A-10s by placing up to 36 aircraft on 'backup flying status' for the duration of the year."
Wheeler feels that although it's billed as a compromise, the "Air Force stratagem of pretending that the F-35 will be delayed unless the A-10 force dismantling continues, that has obviously succeeded."
An aide to Sen. McCain (R-AZ), a strong supporter of the A-10 program, feels that the bill is a win. "Considering that this year began with the administration planning to retire 110 A-10s, and the 2015 NDAA prohibits the retirement of any A-10s, Senator McCain considers this a positive development for the future of the A-10 and its mission."
The House is expected to vote on the Defense Authorization Act this week, with the Senate to follow next week. Congressional leaders have likely lined up enough support to pass an appropriations bill reflecting the authorization bill.