Report: Air Force might delay retirement of A-10s

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The U.S. Air Force is delaying plans to immediately retire the A-10 Thunderbolt attack plane, which is in high demand by military commanders in the air campaign against the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria, according to unconfirmed reports.

The website Defense One, citing anonymous Pentagon officials, says the new plan is to postpone the retirement of the fleet.

The Air Force has not confirmed the Defense One article, although Air Force officials suggested in recent months that the military might hold off on the retirement.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in early December that the A-10 was “doing a good job for us” in the Middle Eastern theater, “so that’s a reason to keep it a bit longer.” However, she said looming budget cuts at the Pentagon would figure into the calculus.

Last fall, Congress blocked any plans to mothball the A-10 for the coming year through a defense spending bill.

James’ remarks followed a prediction in November from a lower Air force commander, who said the military might delay the planned A-10’s retirement by two to three years due to the increase in demand for the plane overseas.

The Air Force had proposed retiring over five years the A-10, also known as the Warthog, of which there are 18 at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Macomb County.

“I am very pleased with reports that the Air Force has delayed plans to retire the A-10 Warthog, which is fully engaged against ISIS and continues to protect troops under fire and save lives,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said in a statement.

She noted the news would benefit the airmen and women who recently returned home to Selfridge after flying 1,600 sorties against ISIS overseas.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, also welcomed the news Thursday.

“The A-10 is an indispensable aircraft, which provides critical capabilities for our troops on the ground around the world, which is why through my entire tenure I have been a tireless advocate for the preservation of the fleet,” Miller said in a statement.

The A-10 planes at Selfridge in Harrison Township support about 650 full- and part-time jobs.

“With the A-10 currently deployed in the mission to fight ISIS, I believe keeping these aircraft active in the next fiscal year is a wise decision,” U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said in a statement. “The A-10 fleet has proven to be a critical component of our nation’s military, conducting key close-air support missions that safeguard our brave men and women in combat.”

Michigan’s congressional delegation, Gov. Rick Snyder and others have been fighting the Pentagon’s efforts to retire the A-10 since 2012. The Air Force wants to replace the A-10 with the F-35 joint strike fighter by 2021, saying it would save more than $4.7 billion.

mburke@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8736