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Mich. lawmakers push to preserve A-10 fleet

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Michigan lawmakers are pressing congressional defense budget leaders not to eliminate funding for the A-10 attack plane fleet that supports hundreds of jobs at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Macomb County.

In its recent budget proposal, the Air Force renewed its push to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt, also known as the Warthog, saying it would save more than $4.7 billion.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township argue this approach doesn’t weigh fully recent investments in the fleet or its cost-effectiveness. Pilots continue to fly the planes overseas.

“At this time, no other aircraft is able to engage in the difficult, close proximity missions with the level of success as the A-10,” Stabenow and Peters wrote in a joint letter to the leaders of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi, and Dick Durbin, D-Illinois.

“Retiring the A-10 before suitable alternatives, capable of the same level of operational engagement, are ready is unwise."

The senators noted the Air Force recently placed 18 combat-ready A-10s on backup status, so they’ll no longer be flying. The Air Force is authorized to convert another 18 later this year.

“We request you fully authorize the funding required for the A-10 and take no additional action to divest or move additional planes to backup status in 2016,” they wrote.

At a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee last week, Air Force generals told lawmakers the A-10 savings will help modernize an aging fleet of aircraft by freeing up funds for other priorities.

“Given the current budget realities, we must make wise fiscal decisions that allow us to remain the premier Air Force in the world,” Maj. Gen. Timothy M. Ray said.

Earlier in March, 18 members of Congress led by U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, wrote to leaders of the House panel on defense appropriations, asking them to reject the A-10 retirement effort.

McSally, a fighter pilot who flew A-10s while in the Air Force, noted they are deployed in Eastern Europe and the Mideast for offensive operations against the Islamic State, and that the fleet provides critical combat search-and-rescue capabilities. However, “the equivalent of four squadrons have been mothballed since 2012,” she wrote.

Seven members of Michigan’s delegation signed McSally’s letter: Reps. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township; Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak; Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls; Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield; John Moolenaar, R-Midland; Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn; and Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland.

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