GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire joined nine other senators in blasting the Air Force for completely evading congressional intent and taking underhanded steps to dismantle the A-10 fleet.
In a recent letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, Ayotte and the other lawmakers accused the service of evading a legislative mandate to continue operating the A-10.
First, the Air Force has spent the last two years reducing funding available for A-10 maintenance. In fact, the drop from fiscal year 2014 to 2015 leaves the total at $47.5 million, down by $31.9 million.
This cut digs into A-10 readiness and the ability of the Air Force to meet combatant commander requirements. In response to a recent inquiry, the Air Force admitted that diminished maintenance levels will reduce the number of A-10s ready for deployment in fiscal year 2017. The Air Force also stated that it began reduction of maintenance funding in FY 2015 because of a strong push to retire the fleet.
While the senators were pleased that the Air Force requested A-10 maintenance funding for FY 2016, they also think that the funding is insufficient, covering only 26 depot entries instead of the 31 entries necessary to meet requirements. In FY 2017, that number of required entries will explode to 50. This situation is also made worse by an especially high operations tempo. The Air Force has relied on the A-10 to bring the fight to the Islamic State, and also to deploy to Europe to keep Russian aggression in check.
According to the senators, the best way for the service to manage internal resource allocation for the A-10 is to assume that Congress will prohibit its retirement until the Air Force can come up with an aircraft that first matches the A-10’s capabilities, and second achieves full operational capability. The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act again blocks the Air Force from retiring the fleet. (RELATED: Defense Bill Rejects Attempt To Sideline The A-10)
The second problem is that earlier this year, the Air Force moved 18 A-10s from active inventory status and placed them in XJ status. But Congress did not authorize XJ status, and the difference between the two is considerable. Aircraft on BAI status will occasionally be flown to maintain readiness, but aircraft on XJ status will not. They are essentially grounded on a permanent basis. Even with maintenance, an aircraft that does not fly will deteriorate. The Air Force’s move here clearly seems to violate a provision in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which only allowed moving 18 A-10s to “back up flying status,” hence the upset from Congress.
Finally, placing the aircraft in XJ status the Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base has had to rely on test aircraft instead. This has resulted in a major decrease in A-10 testing and maintenance.
“When considered cumulatively, we worry that these steps represent an attempt by the Air Force to conduct a gradual backdoor divestment of the A-10 fleet,” the senators wrote, seeing the Air Force’s tactics as underhanded methods to subvert congressional intent.