Defense Cuts Face Political Bases: Warthog, Spy-Plane Defenders

Photograph by U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman JoAnn S. Makinano via Bloomberg

A U.S. Air Force A-10 “Warthog” from the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing takes off for a mission into Iraq.

From Bloomberg Government’s Congress Tracker:

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has presented Congress with some unpalatable political decisions in the midst of an election year.

His budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 would create some clear political losers. Among them: congressional districts in Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin and Utah.

Since the administration’s plan is just the starting point that Congress uses to write the annual defense bills, the final product could bear little resemblance to what Hagel has proposed.

Chief among the battles may be the retirement of the A-10 “Warthog” fleet.

The military’s desire to stop using the tank-killing, close-air support plane “is going to be a real problem,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon said in an interview. “It’s got quite a constituency and they have a lot of strong reasons why it should be kept.”

Any time the military adds or subtracts a weapon, there’s a business impact to the communities where the parts are made and the final-assembly factory puts it together. “You have to deal with the reality,” the California Republican said. “People keep things in their districts.”

Here’s our look at the weapons that the Pentagon picked to be the biggest losers — and where to expect push-back from lawmakers in the months ahead:

A-10 Warthog

A-10 pilots train at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, represented in the House by Democrat Ron Barber, a member of the Armed Services Committee. Its senators are Armed Services Committee member John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans. Barber, whose district is politically competitive, made the case with the Pentagon last year not to retire the plane in 2014.

Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia, is home to the 23rd Wing, which employs A-10s.

According to the website of Austin Scott, a Georgia Republican and member of the House Armed Services Committee, the largest Air Force A-10 fighter group is based at Moody.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. builds new wings for the plane at its Macon, Georgia, plant. The new wings are envisioned to allow the A-10 fleet to operate into 2035.

Davis Monthan Air Force Base near Tuscon, the main training base for the A-10, has an economic impact of about $1.6 billion on the local community, according to economic impact analyses issued by the base. That number includes economic activity by military retirees who stayed in the area.

The Air Force does upgrades and depot work for the plane at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah. Upgrade kits are made by Lockheed Martin in Oswego, New York. Rob Bishop, a Republican who represents Ogden in the House, has made the case against the retirement of the A-10 in a letter sent to the Secretary of the Air Force in September. The No. 3 Senate Democrat, Charles Schumer of New York, has been an outspoken supporter of Lockheed’s operations in his state.

The program has another noteworthy advocate, as well: Senator Kelly Ayotte, whose husband flew the A-10, backed a provision in the 2014 defense policy bill that prevented the retirement of the A-10 this fiscal year. The New Hampshire Republican, also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said after  Hagel’s announcement that she will fight the Pentagon’s proposal.

U-2 Spy Plane

Robins Air Force base, which is also in Scott’s Georgia district, would be hit if the U-2 spy plane is retired, as the Pentagon proposes.

Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon Co. provides field service for ground stations, sensors and data links for the U-2 at the base’s logistics center.

The Air force wants to retire the U-2, which began flying spy missions over the Soviet Union in 1956, in favor of the Global Hawk surveillance drones made by Falls Church, Virginia-based Northrop Grumman Co. Northrop does final assembly for the drone in McKeon’s California district.

McKeon said that Congress won’t necessarily back the U-2 retirement decision.

Littoral Combat Ship

The Pentagon wants to build a fleet of 32 shore-hugging Littoral Combat Ships instead of 52 originally proposed.

Versions of the ship are made by Lockheed and Henderson, Australia-based Austal Ltd in Mobile, Alabama, and Marinette, Wisconsin.

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, has protected the program, which has created at least 4,000 jobs there, according to Austal. Sessions, who’s up for re-election this year, also has the backing of Alabama’s senior Republican, Richard Shelby, ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In Wisconsin, Republican Reid Ribble represents the Marinette area in the House and has fought to protect the program. Ribble has said that the LCS contract changed the “demeanor” of the city which had suffered from high unemployment.

National Guard

Reductions in the National Guard forces, as proposed by Hagel probably will face opposition from governors across the country.

Guard units answer to state leaders and can be put on active duty by the president during wartime. Under Hagel’s proposal, the Army National Guard’s numbers would drop from about 355,000 today to 335,000 by 2017. If automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration stay in place in 2016, that number would drop to 315,000, Hagel said.

Army Bases

The active Army would take the brunt of the personnel cuts if Congress allows them to take place. Hagel’s plan would reduce the Army by 6 percent to about 490,000 personnel by 2015 from about 522,000 today, accelerating by two years the Army’s plan to reach that total by 2017. Hagel’s proposal also calls for reductions to about 450,000 by 2019 — 30,000 fewer than the active-duty force in September 2001 before the terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin of  Michigan said Pentagon officials have “a tough case to make” that Army personnel cuts “are appropriate, that they will not affect morale, that they won’t affect  recruitment” and will have a significant impact in terms of savings. The Pentagon will also have to show how the plan will “protect modernization and readiness,” he told reporters.

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