A group of 20 lawmakers led by Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) is urging leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to include funding in the final fiscal year 2018 defense spending package to buy new wings for the Air Force’s aging but heavily used A-10 Thunderbolt II close-air-support aircraft.

In a Dec. 15 letter, the group wrote that 110 A-10s, or more than a third of the fleet, will have to be grounded if they do not receive new wings, creating a “significant capability gap.” Those groundings could begin in 2018, as the old wings reach the end of their service lives.

The A-10 Warthog. Photo: Air Force.
The A-10 Warthog. Photo: Air Force.

The letter said the A-10, also known as the Warthog, remains a vital weapon against current and potential adversaries. In the fight against the Islamic State, for example, the A-10 has dropped about a fifth of all munitions, more than any other aircraft.

While the FY 2018 defense authorization act and the House-passed FY 2018 defense appropriations bill both contain provisions that would allow the Air Force to restart wing production, the Senate appropriations bill does not. Congress has not yet determined how or when it will produce a final version of the appropriations bill.

The letter is addressed to Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. It is copied to House and Senate leaders.

Besides McSally, the letter is signed by 17 House members and two senators. McSally is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a former A-10 pilot.

The A-10 fleet consists of 283 aircraft, of which 173 have already received new wings. When the Air Force was considering retiring the fleet, the wing production contract expired, leaving 110 aircraft without new wings, the letter said. But the Air Force now intends to keep flying the Warthog.

“Now that the Air Force has confirmed that it plans to maintain the A-10 fleet well into the foreseeable future, the remaining 110 wing sets must be delivered as soon as possible,” the letter said.

The A-10 was built by Fairchild Republic, now part of Northrop Grumman [NOC].