February 25, 2014 at 10:37 am

Pentagon's latest budget cuts Selfridge's 24 A-10 planes

Washington — Two leading members of Michigan’s congressional delegation have pledged to challenge a Department of Defense proposal to eliminate a fleet of aircraft that’s critical to Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

Shortly after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced his budget proposal Monday, U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, rejected his plan to retire the entire A-10 fleet of aircraft, including the 24 planes at the base in Harrison Township.

Miller, whose district includes the base, said she led efforts to reject past attempts to eliminate the flying mission of the A-10 and will do so again this year.

“Those of us who strongly recognize the important role the National Guard plays in defending our nation will not back down in ensuring that role is not diminished,” said Miller, vice chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Hagel outlined his 2015 budget request Monday that calls for saving $3.5 billion over five years by eliminating the A-10 fleet. The A-10, also known as the Warthog, is a 40-year-old single purpose airplane designed to kill enemy tanks on a Cold War battlefield and can no longer compete with more advanced aircraft, Hagel said.

Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Service Committee, countered that assessment.

“The A-10 has a vital capability, and we must ensure that we maintain that capability,” he said. “Those who propose eliminating the A-10 have a heavy burden of proof. Any such proposal will receive close scrutiny.”

Eliminating Selfridge’s A-10s could affect up to 650 full- and part-time jobs tied to plane’s operations at the base, officials have said. The Warthogs are part of the 127th Wing, which also flied the KC-135 Stratotanker, a jet that enables the military to refuel other aircraft in midair. There are eight Stratotankers based at Selfridge.

The question members of Congress have is what to replace it with and how soon. Hagel wants a move to the F-35, but that plane won’t be ready until the early 2020s.

Congress has repeatedly rebuffed attempts by the Pentagon to reduce the Air National Guard and the A-10 fleet.

In 2012, Congress rejected plans to move the A-10s out of Michigan to another base.

In 2012, the U.S. Air Force said Michigan could lose more than 850 full- and part-time jobs as part of proposed cuts at Selfridge and Kellogg Air Guard Station in Battle Creek.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said the cuts will allow the military to maintain its capabilities.

Gov. Rick Snyder said in a 2012 interview with The Detroit News that the Air National Guard's A-10 unit is cheaper to operate, costing $26 million versus $52 million for an active duty unit.

“We do a much better job than the regular Air Force,” Snyder said.

Selfridge officials have estimated the base and its personnel annually contribute $700 million to Metro Detroit’s economy.

Detroit News Staff Writer Charles E. Ramirez contributed.

Up to 650 full- and part-time jobs at Selfridge are tied to the A-10s, which the plan would ground. / David Guralnick / The Detroit News