(Valdosta Daily Times): Defense bill earmarks money for A-10 upkeep
VALDOSTA -- The 2018 defense spending bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday includes money to keep Warthogs flying.
The bill contains $103 million for replacing aging wings for the Air Force's A-10C "Warthog" ground attack planes, some of which are stationed at Moody AFB. Lack of money for replacing the aging parts led an Air Force general earlier this year to warn that some of the Warthogs would have to be grounded.
Boeing is under contract with the Air Force to deliver 173 wingsets through 2017. Defense News reports that Boeing is having trouble delivering wingsets on time due to a part that is being reworked. Moody's Warthogs are newer so the base "is in better shape than a lot of units," said Rachel Ledbetter, spokeswoman for Ga. Rep. Austin Scott (R-8th Dist.)
The bill -- officially a House conference report -- passed 356 to 70. Of Georgia's 14 representatives, only two -- John Lewis (D.-5th Dist.) and Henry Johnson (D.-4th Dist.) -- voted against it.
The original version of the National Defense Authorization Act passed the house in July, then that version was passed to the senate, which had its own version of the NDAA, which it passed, Ledbetter said. A Senate-House conference committee was formed, including Scott and Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), to hammer out a compromise bill for both houses to vote on, she said.
The House conference report now heads to the Senate, which is expected to vote on it this week, Ledbetter said. If it passes, the final bill will be sent to the president for his signature.
In September, Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, said some Warthogs would have to be grounded in 2018 because their wings will have reached the end of their service life, meaning they cannot be safely flown, according to Daryl Mayer, media operations section chief for 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio.
The A-10C is the Air Force's only plane designed for low-level ground attack missions for troop support. As of 2015, the Air Force had 283 A-10Cs.
In 2014, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proposed retiring the fleet of tank-killer planes for an estimated savings of $3.5 billion during five years.
More recently, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter decided to postpone the planned retirement of the planes until at least 2022. He cited the Warthog's success in strikes against ISIS forces as a factor in the decision.
"We expect to ground up to 55 A-10s across the entire fleet by fiscal year 2025, although there are many factors which could change those projections," Mayer said in a statement.
"We're trying to work through to see if we can get to the point where we will not have to ground airplanes waiting to get wings, but as it stands right now, we will have to ground airplanes while we work through getting additional wings," Pawlikowski said in an interview with Defense News.
The Department of Defense originally planned to replace the A-10 with the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35 project is behind schedule and over budget.
Terry Richards is senior reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times.