McCain tears into Air Force general over ‘embarrassing’ A-10 answers

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee chewed out the Air Force chief of staff on Thursday over attempts to retire the A-10, calling the general “disingenuous” and saying his responses were “embarrassing.”

Gen. Mark Welsh told the committee that the service would use F-15s and F-16s for air support once it retires the A-10, a move it already delayed after pressure by Congress to keep the Warthogs flying. Welsh also said the F-35 would take over that role in the future.

But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that if the F-15s and F-16s were better at air support, the service would be using them now.

“This is really unfortunately disingenuous. You have the option of using the F-15 and F-16 right now but you’re not, you’re using the A-10,” McCain said.

McCain went on to say that the A-10 is being heavily used against the Islamic State, but Welsh pushed back that other aircraft are being used more.

“Those aren’t the facts,” Welsh said.

“They are the facts,” McCain interrupted him. “The facts are on the ground in the destruction of the enemy by the A-10 aircraft. Why would you want to retire the least expensive, most accurate close-air support system?”

“I don’t want to retire it, senator, but the Air Force has to get bigger to do all of this,” Welsh said.

“Enough said, general, OK?” McCain said, ending the fiery exchange. “It’s really embarrassing to hear you say something like that when I talk to the people who are doing the flying, who are doing the combat, who say the A-10 is by far the best close-air support we have. It’s embarrassing.”

The Air Force has been trying to retire the A-10 for years to make room to bring the F-35 online, including freeing up maintainers to work on the new jets. But the service has faced pressure from Congress to keep the aging aircraft in the fleet because of the close-air support it has provided against the Islamic State. U.S. and coalition troops under fire rely on the aircraft to fly in and fire weapons on the enemy.

In its fiscal 2017 budget request, the Air Force delayed the retirement of the A-10s and does not plan to retire any next fiscal year. But Welsh said they still must be retired soon because the Air Force is limited in both manpower and funding and most focus resources on new aircraft.

After he finished with Welsh, McCain grilled Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James on the U.S. use of Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines to get to space, repeatedly asking her if she knows that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “cronies” have an interest in the company making them.

“I’ve been to a lot of hearings in my time and I haven’t seen one like this,” he said.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Examiner.

You can Read an excerpt from the exchange below:

SASC Chairman McCain: “The only problem, General, with your statement about the A-10 is you have no replacement for it, and it’s in combat and in operation in Iraq and Syria as we speak… You want to retire it, but you have no plans according to what’s been submitted to this committee as to the F-35s that will replace it. In fact, you have reduced the number of F-35s that we are requesting. It doesn’t match up, General.”
Air Force Chief General Mark Welsh: “Chairman, the mission capability of the A-10 will not be replaced by the F-35.” …
Chairman McCain: “A significant number [of targets that have been struck in Iraq and Syria] have been done by the A-10… is that true or false?”
General Welsh: “It’s true.”
Chairman McCain: “Then why would you want to retire the least expensive, most accurate close-air support system?”
General Welsh: “I don’t want to retire it, Senator.”…
SASC Chairman McCain: “But you haven’t got a replacement for it, General. And for you to sit here and say that you do absolutely flies in the face of the facts.”

In case you missed it, below is a quick history of the fight the keep the A-10 flying.

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