Senate committee: $320M from personnel cuts could keep A-10 flying

The Senate Armed Services committee wants to put $320 million saved from cutting personnel to pay for flying the A-10 another year, the committee's chairman said Thursday.

Members of Congress have been scouring the Defense Department budget to find money for the A-10 in fiscal 2015, instead of retiring the fleet as the Air Force has planned.

"A lot of the funding came from a determination that there was an under execution in military personnel accounts," said Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich. "In other words, the size of our military has been coming down faster than planned."

The committee joins the House Armed Services Committee in supporting the A-10, revered by ground troops but identified by the Air Force as a single-mission aircraft that the service can no longer afford. The House committee also opposes retiring the A-10 and the U-2, which the Air Force also intends to retire.

In a press briefing Thursday, Levin said the Senate Armed Services Committee did not block the Air Force from retiring the A-10 or the U-2.

"We just didn't make a decision," Levin said. "We don't require nor do we prohibit. We shifted the funding but we don't tell them they must retire [either aircraft]."

The committee shifted money to the U-2 program from the planned budget for the Global Hawk, the unmanned plane the Air Force intends to use in place of the U-2 for reconnaissance and surveillance.

The committee will let the Air Force retire E-8C Joint STARS aircraft, subject to reports to Congress.

The Senate action joins the House of Representatives, which on May 22 approved its version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. That version includes an amendment from Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., that pays for the aircraft by allocating $635 million from the budget for overseas contingency operations. This will likely create conflict between the two chambers, as Levin has said that using contingency operations funds for the aircraft is "not legitimate."

Both committees' actions would only keep the A-10 flying for one more year. The Senate's markup of the bill blocks funding for wing upgrades for the jets.

Levin said the committee worked with the Government Accountability Office to identify money that can be saved by the reduction in size of the military, but he didn't have specific numbers on how much would be saved, and how much would be provided for A-10 operations.

Both chambers have now moved to block the A-10 from heading to the boneyard, meaning the service is likely to be forced to keep it flying through fiscal 2015. Levin said he hopes to get the markup to the floor "as soon as possible" before a conference committee of House and Senate committee members meets to work out final language.

Levin said in unveiling the Senate Armed Services markup that the committee is fully funding the department's readiness and operation and maintenance accounts.

Committee ranking member Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said the committee is fully funding the Air Force's plans for F-35 and KC-46 A procurement, along with avionics upgrades for C-130Hs. The committee is retaining seven E-3 Sentry airborne early warning and control aircraft that the Air Force was planning to retire, Inhofe said.


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