An A-10C Thunderbolt II prepares to land following a training mission Jan. 11. A House Armed Services Committee markup gives the Air Force some flexibility regarding its disputed plan to retire the aircraft. (Retired Capt. Brad Kidder / USAF)
WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services Committee’s full markup for FY 2015 includes language that ties the Air Force’s hands with the planned retirement of aircraft, although it does provide a little breathing room to retire the A-10, the most controversial of planned cuts.
The markup limits the availability of funds authorized for FY 2015 that can be used toward the retirement of the A-10, unless each aircraft that is retired is kept in type-1000 storage. Type-1000 is the closest to “ready” storage that the service uses, meaning the planes could be readily activated if need be.
Although the language is restrictive, it does not prohibit the Air Force from retiring the A-10s outright during FY 2015. This can be seen as a potential win for the service. Air Force officials want to retire the A-10, best known for its close-air support capabilities, in a cost-cutting measure, but members of Congress have been adamant about forcing the service to keep the plane.
The most notable proponent of the A-10 has been Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. Although heavily combative with service officials over the plane, she was notably friendly with service Secretary Deborah Lee James during a hearing last week; that may be a sign that a compromise along these lines is in play .
Another cost-cutting measure planned by the Air Force, the retirement of the U-2 spy plane, appears to be headed for a tougher battle.
“The committee is concerned with the Department of the Air Force’s plan to retire the U-2 fleet in fiscal year 2016,” the HASC markup reads. “While the committee realizes that the Department can never fully meet the ISR demand of combatant commanders, reasonable and necessary ISR requests appear very likely to go unfilled if the current high-altitude airborne ISR collection capabilities of the U-2 are terminated.”
As a result, the committee included language prohibiting the obligation and expenditure of funds in FY 2015 to “make significant changes to retire, prepare to retire, or place U-2 aircraft in storage.”
The committee also requested a report be delivered by Feb. 16 outlining the plan to transition capabilities from the U-2 to the Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned system, citing concerns over a potential capability gap between the two platforms.
Both the A-10 and U-2 cuts have been described as painful but necessary by service leaders, who say the missions performed by the aircraft can be done by other platforms.
The committee increased funding by $73.8 million over the president’s request for upgrades for the C-130H fleet. That increase will largely go toward the older platform’s Avionics Modernization Program (AMP), which the HASC prevents from being cut.
“The committee believes that by failing to take actions to modernize the C-130H fleet in the very near term with C-130 AMP and propulsion systems upgrades, [recapitalization and sustainment costs] will become so cost prohibitive in the future that the only course of action available to the Secretary will result in the divestiture of the C-130H aircraft from the Air Force inventory,” wrote the HASC members.
“Knowing that the majority of the C-130H fleet resides within the Reserve Components of the Air Force and that the C-130H should remain reliable, capable, and relevant to meeting current and future warfighter needs, the committee is concerned with the approach that the Secretary has taken with regard to the lack of robust modernization and upgrade of C-130H aircraft, if the aircraft is to have a service-life through 2040 as currently planned.”
In a pre-emptive move, the HASC members also included language preventing the service from spending funds to begin retirement of the KC-10 Stratotanker for FY 2015. The service has not planned on cutting the KC-10 fleet this year, but has said that if funding levels are not raised for FY 2016 they would attempt to divest its entire fleet of Stratotankers in another cost-cutting move.