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Washington — A U.S. Senate committee has approved a measure to provide an additional $65 million for new wings to help keep the A-10 Thunderbolt II flying.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, pushed to include the provision in the National Defense Authorization Act as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which on Thursday passed the bill. 

The authorized funding, a total of $144 million, matches the level that last week passed the U.S. House as part of that chamber's version of the defense bill.

“This bipartisan defense bill will support ongoing operations at places like Selfridge Air National Guard Base, as well as important (research and development) efforts across the state that are preparing the U.S. military for the future of warfare with new technologies like artificial intelligence and sophisticated cyber attacks," Peters said in a statement.

The U.S. Air Force said last year it could be forced to ground three of its nine combat squadrons of A-10s, also called Warthogs, as their wings run out of service life, if they aren't rebuilt or replaced. That would affect aircraft stationed at the Selfridge base in Harrison Township. 

The A-10 program most recently got funding for new wings as part of the omnibus spending package that Congress approved in the spring. 

Air Force Lt. Gen. Jerry D. Harris said in congressional testimony in April that the latest re-winging program aims to avoid any further groundings beyond 2025 and would ensure a minimum of six combat squadrons remain in service until 2032.

The bill approved by the Senate panel included language from a committee report that urges the Department of Defense to develop fire-fighting foams free of potentially dangerous class of chemicals. 

Polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances — also known as PFAS — have contaminated water supplies near Michigan defense sites and chemical plants.

The bill authorizes $10 million to continue a long-term study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the health implications of PFAS contamination in drinking water.

The House version of the bill authorizes $7 million for the CDC study for a second year.

The Senate bill also requires the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to maintain a registry of veterans who may have been exposed to PFAS and notify them of developments in the study and the treatment of conditions caused by exposure to the chemicals, according to Peters' office.

The House bill included language emphasizing the importance of a billion-dollar project to upgrade the Soo Locks in the Upper Peninsula. 

Only one of the four shipping locks in Sault Ste. Marie is big enough to handle the largest freighters that carry 85 percent of the cargo through the corridor — including those carrying iron ore vital to steel production for the manufacturing supply chain.

The committee's report urges the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others in the executive branch "to expedite necessary reviews, analysis and approvals in order to speed the required upgrades at the Soo Locks.”

A long-awaited report expected from the Army Corps in June will determine if the project gets a rating sufficient to compete for construction funding among other navigation projects.

"The Soo Locks, located in my home district, are a single point of failure in a multibillion-dollar supply chain, and potential target for disruptive activities," Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, said on the House floor in support of the bill.

"Any unscheduled outage of the Locks would threaten our national economy, and in turn, our national security."

mburke@detroitnews.com

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