Budget deal saves A-10 planes at Selfridge

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A deal struck by Congress late Tuesday will save more than 20 A-10 planes at Selfridge Air National Guard base — despite a Pentagon plan to retire the planes.

Under the deal announced Wednesday, the Pentagon couldn’t get rid of the planes but could reduce flying time for active duties — but not for the 21 planes at Selfridge in Harrison Township.

In February, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced plans to retire the entire A-10 fleet of aircraft at bases around the county.

The bill includes $35.1 million for replacement of the fuel distribution facilities at Selfridge. It also includes $6 million to support the location of an MQ-9 Remote Split Operations unit at Battle Creek Air National Guard base.

“The rapid refueling of wide-bodied and fighter aircraft is essential to support contingency operations, training-sortie turnarounds, and aircraft missions at Selfridge ... . Without this project, the base would be hampered by delays in refueling wide-bodied aircraft,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, said she will support the defense bill when the House votes on it Thursday but said the language in the new bill is far weaker at protecting the A-10s than a bill passed by the House earlier this year.

She said members of Congress will be in a “weaker position” next year when they fight again to keep the A-10s because of the language that allows, after a study, the Air Force to mothball up to 35 A-10s.

“The Air Force has been trying to divest all these A-10s. It doesn’t take a tree full of owls” to understand what they are going to do, she said.

The problem is only one Guard unit has F-35s — the Air Force replacement for the A-10 — and it isn’t Selfridge, Miller said. It could take years — if ever — for Selfridge to get the F-35.

“The Air Force must recognize that, unless and until a follow on mission is identified that can perform the mission of supporting our troops on the ground as well as the A-10, their efforts to retire this outstanding weapons system will be resisted in Congress,” Miller said.

Levin said the bill has a number of other important provisions for Michigan.

“This bill once again highlights the Michigan role in our national defense that has continued from our history as World War II’s ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ until today,” he said.

The bill includes $182.9 million for Army research on combat vehicle and automotive technologies through the Army Tank and Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center in Warren. TARDEC is the Defense Department’s laboratory for research and development of advanced military vehicle technologies and technology partnerships with the automotive industry.

The bill also proves for $435.1 million, including $50 million above the budget request, for the Army’s Stryker double-v hull armored vehicle. The money “will help the Army accelerate production to create a fourth DVH Stryker brigade. General Dynamics Land Systems in Sterling Heights is the prime contractor for the Stryker program and more than 200 Michigan companies serve as suppliers,” Levin said.

The Pentagon budget proposal called 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.

Had the plan gone into place, eliminating Selfridge’s A-10s could have affected up to 650 full- and part-time jobs tied to plane’s operations at Selfridge, officials have said. The Warthogs are part of the 127th Wing, which also flies the KC-135 Stratotanker, a midair refueling jet. There are eight Stratotankers at Selfridge.

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

The question members of Congress have is what to replace the A-10 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 A-10 fleet.

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

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

The National Defense Authorization Act has been named for Levin and the retiring Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Military money for Michigan

The defense bill has hundreds of millions for building tanks and vehicles — with much of the production in Michigan including:

■$357 million for the Abrams Main Battle Tank program. General Dynamics Land Systems of Sterling Heights is the prime contractor for the Abrams program and more than 200 Michigan companies serve as suppliers.

■$144.5 million for Bradley Fighting Vehicle modifications.

■$126.4 million for the improved recovery vehicle. Funds will be used for vehicle modernization, among other things.

■$78.4 million to buy more heavy tactical vehicles. Detroit Diesel manufactures and supplies the engine for this program.

■$145.6 million to buy more medium tactical vehicles. Meritor of Troy, AAR Mobility of Cadillac and a number of other Michigan companies are involved in the production of the vehicles.

■$92.4 million for continued development of the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle. AMPV will replace the M113 armored personnel carriers in the Army’s armored brigades.

■$49.2 million for a next generation infantry fighting vehicle. General Dynamics Land Systems and BAE, both of Sterling Heights, are contractors who have been involved in this technology development program.