Now Reading
Panning Pentagon cuts, Barber vows fight for A-10

From the archive: This story is more than 5 years old.

Panning Pentagon cuts, Barber vows fight for A-10

Points to Medicare 'waste and fraud' before military budget reductions

  • Dylan Smith/

In the face of a proposal to retire the entire A-10 fleet, U.S. Rep. Ron Barber said he would fight to keep the Warthog flying, calling the aircraft "crucial to our community, to Davis-Monthan, and to the country at large."

While the Pentagon said cutting the plane would save $3.5 billion over five years, Barber said Monday it would only save $700,000 "after having already spent $1 billion to upgrade" the attack aircraft.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday that the Pentagon would cut the A-10 fighter jet, also known as the Thunderbolt, as part of a sweeping series of cuts to the defense budget for 2015.

Hagel called the decision to retire the A-10 “a close call,” but said the budget cuts also aim to increase readiness and modernize the department.

The Air Force has 326 of the planes, operating out of five bases across the United States, including a large presence at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The Air Force would replace the Warthogs with the F-35 Lightning II, and the MQ-9 Reaper, an upgraded version of the Predator drone.

But some Arizona lawmakers have argued that cutting the A-10 does not make economic sense since it is a proven aircraft that is inexpensive to maintain. Barber and others had previously written to urge President Obama to keep the planes.

"The A-10 is the most effective close-air support for our troops on the ground," Barber told reporters in Tucson on Monday. "The F-35 is a long way off ... it is not an aircraft designed to do what the A-10 does best ... fly slow and low and protect our troops."

The Pentagon move "does not seem to be very well thought out," Barber said. "We spent over $1 billion upgrading the A-10," giving the planes "another 15-20 years of flying time."

Grounding the planes would "save $700,000 after having already spent $1 billion," he said.

Barber bristled at the budget move, saying that as part of this year's appropriations, Congress wrote into law that the "Air Force cannot retire, or plan to retire ... the A-10 for all of calendar year 2014."

"The reason, in one word, is sequestration," Barber said, calling the automatic budget cuts "the culprit here."

The budget is "not a surprise," Barber said, calling Hagel's move "just a proposal" and that he and others in Congress would work to ensure it remains just that.

$1.1 billion in Tucson economy

Retiring the A-10 could dent the Tucson-area economy, which reaped a $1.1 billion economic impact from operations at Davis-Monthan in fiscal 2012, according a report by base officials that was released last year.

“With the A-10 gone, it will leave a vacuum that’s hard to fill,” said Mike Varney, CEO of the Tucson Metro Chamber. He called the A-10 the biggest part of Davis-Monthan.

Mike Grassinger, president of the DM-50 boosters group, said, "I think it would be significant impact on local economy without some sort of replacement mission to take its place."

The base is Tucson's third-largest employer, Grassinger said, with around 11,000 jobs, with a "1.1 billion dollar economic impact and when you take it retirees takes it to 1.6 billion."

But Hagel said the budget decisions unveiled Monday were carefully weighed to let the U.S. maintain a “technological edge” against its adversaries while keeping the defense budget under control. Retiring the A-10 is expected to save $3.5 billion over five years, he said.

“The choices ahead will define our institutions for years to come,” Hagel said.

The cut would also accelerate the “long-standing” Air Force plan to replace the A-10s with the new F-35 fighter jets, he said. Other Air Force cuts included retiring the aging U-2 spy plane, which Hagel said can be capably replaced by the the military’s Global Hawk surveillance drone.

Replacing the A-10 with the F-35 may take several years, as the F-35 program has been beset with major problems.

Supporters of the A-10 have argued that the plane still has up to 20 years of life still left if properly maintained, but Hagel dismissed that claim Monday.

“It cannot survive or operate effectively,” Hagel said of the A-10, whose age will cause it to be more “difficult and costly to maintain.”

But supporters have said there is “no clear replacement” for the A-10 and that its loss would cripple the military’s ability to provide close-air support. The heavily armored Warthog has a history as a major tank-buster, and was designed around a 30mm cannon for destroying Soviet-era armor. During the first Gulf War, A-10s destroyed more than 900 tanks.

'Waste and fraud'

"There's not a lot to like in this budget," Barber said, pointing to proposals to cut the U2 spy plane and an "effort to change the way (the Pentagon health insurance program) Tricare works."

The Democrat said he'd fight any effort to curtail the mission of Ft. Huachuca, as well as backing D-M, pointing to the Sierra Vista base's electronic proving ground and drone program.

"There are many things that we're doing here that really can't be more effectively done elsewhere," he said.

Barber said a proposed reduction in the number of active-duty soldiers would be a "hollowing out of our Army," with a reduction of 80,000 troops meaning there would be "just under 500,000 men and women in uniform — the lowest number since World War II."

Rather than the indiscriminate cuts required under sequestration, Congress should look at "waste and fraud," he said.

"We have an $80 billion problem in Medicare" with fraudulent billings, he said.

"We're not done with this - we've just begun to fight," Barber said. "We've already had two rounds, this is round three - as many rounds as there are, we'll be in the ring fighting hard to make sure this doesn't happen."

Cronkite News Service’s Colton Gavin reported from Washington, D.C.

— 30 —

Top headlines

Best in Internet Exploder