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​Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh reacts to a tense exchange between himself and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) regarding the A-10 Warthog on March 3, 2016. Screenshot photo.

​Although the Air Force fully funded the A-10 and the KC-135 in its Fiscal 2017 budget request, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said the service doesn’t have enough airmen to continue operating the fleets and stand up a new squadron of F-35s. “With additional manpower and funding to cover the activity, we could certainly do that and I’d be a very happy air chief if we got that increase, but today we do not have the manpower to do both,” said Welsh during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday. The comments elicited a heated exchange between Welsh and SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “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 … As to the F-35s that will replace it, in fact, you have reduced the number of F-35s that [USAF] is requesting and … it doesn’t match up, general,” said McCain. Welsh reiterated that the Air Force can conduct the same close air support missions with F-16s and F-15Es, which are currently operating against ISIS, but McCain claimed the A-10 is conducting the lion share of sorties against the terrorist organization and he repeatedly cut Welsh off as he tried to explain the breakdown by aircraft variant. “But you're using the A-10 because it's the most effective weapons system. This is really, unfortunately, disingenuous. You have the options of using the F-15 and the F-16 right now., but you're not. You're using the A-10,” said McCain. “Senator, those aren’t the facts on …,” Welsh said, getting cut off again. “Yes, they are the facts, general,” insisted McCain. (See also: Lakenheath F-15s Hit ISIS in Libya; BONES Leave the AOR; USAF Begins ISIS Strikes from Turkey.)