Lawmakers are demanding answers from the Air Force after the fiscal year 2021 budget request included plans to retire dozens of A-10 attack aircraft.

The service’s request stated that 44 of its “least-capable” Warthogs would be retired next fiscal year, including two from the active Air Force, 39 flown by the Air National Guard and seven from the Air Force Reserves. Congressional authorizers have pressed top officials on this decision over the past weeks, considering attempts to retire the aging but beloved aircraft in 2016 were quashed.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a member of the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, pressed Air Combat Command Commander Gen. Mike Holmes and Air Force Director of Programs Lt. Gen. David. Nahom, on the proposal during a March 10 posture hearing, calling it “pre-judicial.”

Holmes told the subcommittee that as the Air Force re-balances its budget away from low-end conflict toward preparing for a high-end fight it is working to maintain a balance between fourth-generation and fifth-generation aircraft and ensure all of its aircraft moving forward are properly modernized.

“We wanted to come through and maintain seven squadrons of A-10s,” Holmes said. That would include one squadron stationed overseas as the 25th Fighter Squadron at Osan Air Base, South Korea, as part of Pacific Air Forces, as well as six “that can be rotationally available,” he added. The service typically keeps one squadron of A-10s deployed in the U.S. Central Command area of operations to meet requirements there.

The proposed retirements would retain that number of squadrons and allow the Air Force to perform much-needed upgrades, including re-winging and avionics updates, to the remaining aircraft, Holmes noted. Budget documents note that the service would continue to modernize the remaining fleet of 218 aircraft through the 2030s.

“With those numbers, we can still do those requirements and we can do the wing upgrades that are required to keep the A-10 useful, and we can bring all the a-10 fleet up to the same configuration so that they’re all just as capable,” he said.

Nahom told the subcommittee that the Air Force is working through the results of tests performed over the past two years to compare the A-10’s performance in combat search-and-rescue, close air support, and airborne forward air control missions against that of the U.S. military’s newest aircraft, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter built by Lockheed Martin [LMT]. The 2016 and 2017 National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAA) forbid the Air Force from retiring the A-10 until Congress has received the results of those comparison tests.

The report is expected in early fall 2020, Nahom said. “We fully intend to comply with the law, … but right now we’re planning for the next phase of the A-10.”

Gallego called the proposed retirements “pre-judicial” so long as Congress has not seen the report.

“How did this plan basically evolve that … [it was] predetermined without any input from Congress?” he asked, noting that the A-10 has had “consistent bipartisan support” on the Hill.

“For me, the fact that I think the process was just tossed aside… was really galling,” he added.