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McCain Says He Won’t Let Air Force Place The A-10s In ‘Backup Status’

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A provision in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) allows Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James to unilaterally place up to 36 A-10s in backup status. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, however, is promising he will do everything in his power to reverse the Air Force’s plan.

Late last year, legislators came together to put a stop to the Air Force’s plans to completely divest the A-10 of funds, but apparently compromised on the “backup status” provision, meaning the service technically has the power to stick as many as 36 A-10s into what is termed backup aircraft inventory (BAI) status.

But lawmakers have since changed their minds in response to James’s recent announcement regarding the Air Force’s decision to sideline only 18 A-10s out of a potential total of 36, a decision that, according to James, was chosen as a sign of respect for Congress. (RELATED: Congress Fights Against Subtle Move To Sideline 18 A-10s From Service)

Out of the 18 planes the Air Force has its sights set on, nine are currently stationed at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, Military.com reports. Other legislators have resigned themselves to the process, but on Friday, McCain admitted that while compromise was necessary at the time to see the NDAA through Congress, the fact that additional A-10s have been deployed to fight the Islamic State means that legislators should consider any means available to reverse their commitment.

McCain did not divulge information on his proposed plan to block the Air Force and reverse the provision in the NDAA, but other legislators, like Republican Rep. Martha McSally from Arizona, were skeptical that much could be done.

“I’m kind of frustrated because these were compromises agreed to before I got into office,” McSally told the Arizona Daily Star. “We have limited options to stop it, but I do want to provide tight oversight to the process.”

McSally is a retired Air Force colonel and currently serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

One possibility might be for McCain to join with Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte in requesting Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter step in to block the Air Force until Congress has time to further review the plans. But although Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham signed Ayotte’s letter at the end of February, McCain did not.

The Air Force has been aggressively trying to remove the A-10s from service, even closing down its last A-10 unit in Europe in 2013, but along with its deployment against the Islamic State, the Air Force has been pushed to scramble to deploy A-10s to participate in NATO training exercises during the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

“You can’t make this stuff up — you close down one squadron, then you deploy another one,” McSally told the Arizona Daily Star.

In the meantime, a week-long summit bringing together leaders of different branches of the military to discuss close air support concluded on Friday, reaffirming that the Air Force is both set on removing the A-10s, and unsure of what sort of next-generation aircraft will take up the torch of close air support for combat troops. (RELATED: Air Force Has No Idea What Will Replace The A-10)

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