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Congresswoman to Air Force: Put down the tuba, pick up a gun

March 22, 2016
 

Rep. Martha McSally has this piece of advice for the Air Force: Ditch the bands and put musicians to work in jobs that boost U.S. national security.

McSally, R-Ariz., on Tuesday said that the service easily complains about its manning levels, and officials make it "their newest excuse" for prematurely retiring essential, close-air support aircraft like the A-10 Warthog, yet "we have hundreds of people playing the tuba and clarinet." 

"If we really had a manning crisis, from my perspective, we would really tell people to put down the tuba and pick up a wrench or a gun," McSally said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing at which Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford testified. "But we're not at that place, and I'm just concerned over these conflicting statements."    

The Air Force's band programs have about 540 enlisted airmen, and almost 20 officers, according to the service. Officials and airmen have picked apart some of the service's more unusual career fields — including amateur show band  Tops in Blue — for using funds that could go for other platforms. 

McSally, and other members of Congress who rally behind the A-10, have criticized the Air Force's reasoning ​for putting the Warthog in the boneyard as early as 2018. The decision to retire the A-10 would require divesting two A-10 squadrons, or 49 planes, that year, ​49 aircraft in fiscal 2019, 64 in fiscal 2020, and 96 in fiscal 2021, an Air Force spokeswoman told Defense News on March 17. 

This at a time when the A-10 has been heavily used in the fight against the Islamic State group, throughout Europe and the Pacific. 

"We've mothballed the equivalent of four A-10 squadrons since 2012, we have only nine remaining, and there are actually less airplanes in them than we used to have," McSally, a former A-10 pilot, said.

"It's not just a platform issue, it's a training issue," Dunford replied. "As the advocate for close-air support and joint capabilities, I absolutely believe we need a transition plan, and there needs to be a replacement for the A-10 before it goes away." 

Dunford said that the Joint Chiefs have met to discuss what capability gaps still exist between close-air support models like the A-10 and the F-35 joint strike fighter intended to replace the aircraft. But officials, including McSally, said the F-35 cannot match the A-10 as a single-mission, close-air support platform. 

"We need a fifth-generation fighter, but when it comes to close-air support, the F-35 having shortfalls in loiter time, lethality, weapons load, the ability to take a direct hit, to fly close combat ... and ... needs evaluation," she said. 

Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East, Europe and Pacific for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at opawlyk@airforcetimes.com.







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