Idaho Senator Mike Crapo spoke to reporters at length Wednesday on the importance of reducing government spending, at the same time he spoke about keeping a program that Air Force leaders want to phase out in order to save $3.5 billion.
Crapo, a Republican, has joined Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, and others to push legislation that would block the Air Force from retiring the A-10 fighter jet.
If you live in the Treasure Valley you’ve probably seen A-10s. Idaho’s Air National Guard practices with them frequently. The plane has been a mainstay of combat in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Guard Col. Tim Marsano says the plane is designed to support troops on the ground fighting in close quarters.
“And it’s probably the best airplane in the world for that because it can fly low and slow and remain in a combat zone for quite a long time,” Marsano says.
Air Force brass does not disagree with that. But generals tell Congress other planes can cover troops on the ground almost as well and do a lot of other things which the A-10 can’t. Focusing on these multi-purpose planes, like the F-16 and new F-35 they say, would save money. The Air Force wants to phase out the A-10 over the next five years.
Marsano says that prospect is on the minds of the men and women of Idaho’s Air National Guard.
“The A-10 mission is the only mission flown by the 124th fighter wing of the Idaho Air National Guard,” Marsano says. “There is no future mission on the table although we do feel that the Gowen Field facilities that we operate from would be a great facility for future air craft.”
Marsano says if the A-10 were phased out and Idaho's Guard did not get a new mission to take its place, it would mean a loss of about $32 million a year for Gowen Field. That includes payroll for about 1,000 full and part-time airmen.
He says the guard doesn’t take positions on political issues and he won’t comment on the A-10 legislation. What Crapo is co-sponsoring is an amendment to a larger defense bill that would block the Air Force from retiring the A-10 until it offers proof it has enough F-35s to take over.
Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio