| WASHINGTON, March 14
WASHINGTON, March 14 The Pentagon's decision to
retire the entire U.S. fleet of popular A-10 "Warthog" aircraft
is painful but necessary as the military is forced to save money
now to develop tomorrow's weapons, Air Force leaders said on
General Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, told a
panel in the House of Representatives that eliminating the 283
tank-killer jets would save $3.7 billion over the next five
years plus another $500 million in planned aircraft upgrades.
The money saved would in turn be used to bolster current Air
Force readiness, which has slipped in recent years because of
budget cuts, and to focus on priorities for the future, such as
the radar-evading F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a new aerial
refueling tanker and a new long-range bomber.
"By making these tough choices today ... we think we're
going to preserve our combat capability and make each taxpayer
dollar count better for the future," Air Force Secretary Deborah
James told the House Armed Services Committee.
The Air Force bid to retire the A-10 comes as the Pentagon
works to comply with White House and congressional directions to
slash a trillion dollars in planned spending over a decade.
It is one of several Pentagon proposals included in the
president's budget this month that have met resistance on
The heavily armored, slow-flying Warthog is enormously
popular among soldiers and Marines. It can withstand ground fire
while loitering for long periods above a battlefield spraying
30mm armor-piercing, depleted-uranium cannon rounds at tanks and
Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, told lawmakers last week the A-10 had come to his rescue
in battle and called it "the ugliest, most beautiful aircraft on
The 40-year-old plane also has strong supporters in Congress
and has survived previous Air Force attempts reduce the fleet.
But Welsh, himself an A-10 pilot, told lawmakers that in the
current budget climate "trimming around the edges just wasn't
going to get it done" and the whole fleet needed to go.
"While no one, especially me, is happy about recommending
divestiture of this great old friend, it's the right decision
from a military perspective," Welsh said.
He said the Air Force had looked at eliminating other
aircraft fleets, but further cuts in fighters could jeopardize
its ability to control the air in a theater of operations and
eliminating the KC-10 tanker aircraft would have too big an
impact on potential missions.
The Air Force reconnaissance fleet is already far too small
to fulfill all the needs of regional military commanders, and
the Army, which is cutting more personnel than the other service
branches, needs a substantial air transport fleet to ensure the
flexibility of its smaller force, Welsh said.
Analysis found "that cutting the A-10 fleet was the
lowest-risk ... option from an operational perspective," he
Acknowledging concerns about the loss of the A-10, Welsh and
James promised that other aircraft could take on the close-air
support role and that mission would be a remain priority.
"Close air support is not an afterthought to me and it's not
going to be a secondary mission in the United States Air Force,"
said Welsh, whose son is a Marine. "But close air support is not
an aircraft. It's a mission, and we do it very, very well with a
number of airplanes today."
(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Tom Brown)