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Washington — A House panel early Thursday approved a defense bill that would again bar the Pentagon from scrapping the Air Force’s A-10 fleet.

There are 18 A-10 airplanes stationed at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township that support about 650 full- and part-time jobs.

Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, vice chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Committee, praised the House Armed Services Committee for including in the National Defense Authorization Act an amendment offered by Rep. Martha McSally to prevent the divestment of the fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft.

Last week, the Michigan National Guard announced that members of the 127th Wing at Selfridge, who operate the A-10, were deployed into theater in the Middle East as part of Operation Inherent Resolve to help in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“This deployment, along with the recent deployment of A-10s from Indiana and Arizona, is a testament to the effectiveness of the close air support aircraft in combat. Attempts to divest the fleet now, without an adequate replacement, are shortsighted and certain to endanger the troops that rely on them most,” Miller said.

She said the vote was an “encouraging win for those of us fighting to stop the Air Force from divesting the fleet. However, it wasn’t without opposition and attempts by other members of the committee to divest the fleet, including one amendment that would have allowed the Air Force to retire approximately half of the A-10s currently in operation. This victory is only one step in what has been a long, hard-fought battle. Next, this authorization will go before the full House and then to the Senate, where I hope that those of us who have advocated for the A-10s will prevail once again.”

In December, a deal struck by Congress saved the 18 planes at Selfridge.

Under the deal, the Pentagon can’t get rid of the planes but could reduce flying time for active duties — but not for the 18 planes.

In February 2014, then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced plans to retire the entire A-10 fleet of aircraft at bases around the country.

Last year, Selfridge received $35.1 million for replacement of the fuel distribution facilities. The Air Force wants to replace the A-10 with the F-35.

The problem is only one Guard unit has F-35s and it isn’t Selfridge, Miller has 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 last year.

The Pentagon budget proposal has 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 last year.

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.

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.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com

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