The U.S. Air Force’s top officer defended the service’s plan to retire the A-10 attack plane, even as lawmakers continue to voice opposition to the idea.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said divesting the Cold War-era gunship, known officially as the Thunderbolt II and unofficially as the Warthog for its cannon-packing snub nose, would save $4.2 billion over five years, up from a previous projection of $3.7 billion.
The service considered other options to scale back fleets of other aircraft, including the F-15 and F-16 fighter jets and the B-1 bomber, Welsh said. But ultimately, it determined that scrapping the almost 300 A-10s would be the least harmful to military operations, he said.
“We came very clearly with the conclusion that of all those horrible options, the least operationally impactful was to divest the A-10,” Welsh said during a breakfast on Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “That how we got there. It’s not emotional. It’s logical. It’s analytical. It makes imminent sense from a military perspective.”
Welsh spoke for about an hour at the event, discussing a range of issues, from automatic budget cuts known as sequestration to military sexual assault.
John McCain, the senior senator from Arizona and former Republican presidential candidate, recently added his voice to the growing chorus of lawmakers seeking to block the Air Force’s plans to retire the A-10. The plane is credited with saving the lives of numerous service members, more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We are going to do away with the finest close-air-support weapon in history?” McCain asked at a news conference earlier this month on Capitol Hill,
The Air Force maintains Warthog squadrons in several states in the U.S., including Arizona, Georgia and Florida, as well as at bases in Germany and South Korea. The service has about 283 of the aircraft across the active, National Guard and Reserve components.
While it has a reputation for being tough and able to withstand damage from flak, the plane is vulnerable to shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, or SAMs, and other air defenses.