The Air Force plans to replace all National Guard A-10 units with new flying missions to make sure their states and bases will not lose positions, according to budget documents obtained by Air Force Times.
The Air Force plans to cut the entire A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet, which includes 107 Warthogs assigned to the National Guard at four bases: Gowen Field Air National Guard Base, Idaho; Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich.; Martin State Airport. Md.; and Fort Wayne International Airport, Ind.
The service also flies 187 A-10s assigned to the active duty, and 49 assigned to the Reserve.
“The Warthog is a venerable platform, and I might add a neat name, but it is getting old,” Defense Undersecretary Robert Hale said in announcing the budget proposal March 4. “There are other planes that especially equipped with precision munitions, can accomplish the task, so reluctantly, and because of affordability, we’ll retire the A-10s.”
The service has said that a “vertical cut” of the entire fleet is the best way to save money, approximately $3.5 billion, including support facilities for the jet.
The Air Force plans to cut the A-10s over five years from fiscal 2015 through 2019.
But according to the budget documents submitted to Congress but not yet released, most of the A-10 bases will get new missions that will keep them open.
According to the plan, which was put together under the threat of sequestration, the Guard A-10 unit in Idaho would transfer to a classic association with F-15E units at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Boise, beginning in 2015. In 2016, the Guard A-10 unit at Selfridge will transfer to KC-135s, which are already based there. In 2018, the unit in Maryland will transfer to C-130Js, which had previously been assigned there. In 2019, the unit at Fort Wayne, Ind., will transfer to block 40 F-16s from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and an air base in the Pacific, which will both transfer to F-35s.
Reserve units would also get new missions. The Reserve A-10 unit based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., would receive F-16s from Hill. A unit assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., would receive F-16s from Hill and the base in the Pacific.
Active- duty A-10 units at Osan Air Base, South Korea; Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.; Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; Moody Air Force Base, Ga.; and Davis-Monthan would not receive new aircraft under the plan.
The A-10 cuts would come as the aircraft undergoes upgrades to its wings and communications systems. The Air Force had already spent money on the upgrades, but will count future savings in addition to its expected $3.7 billion in savings, Martin said.
The Air Force knows it has a tough case to make to Congress to get them to approve the cuts. “We will be prepared to make this case,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said before the budget was released.
One focal point of the Air Force’s case is the close air support role and how other aircraft can accomplish it. “We chose the A-10 because it’s a single- purpose aircraft, with a very important mission, but we have other aircraft like the AC-130, the F-15 Eagle, the F-16 Falcon, the B-1 Lancer and the B-52 Stratofortress that can also do that mission. All are dual- or multipurpose aircraft. In fact, 80 percent of all close-air support in Afghanistan has been accomplished by aircraft other than the A-10,” James said Feb. 28.
But that 80 percent figure includes all combat missions in all combat operations, including Afghanistan and Iraq, and not just ones with weapons releases, the Air Force said in response to questions from Air Force Times. Breakdowns by air frame are classified.