The initial operating capability of the F-35 will be delayed by a year and the Air Force would need to retire some newer F-16s if Congress tells the service to keep flying the A-10, the service told Capitol Hill in a recent briefing.
If lawmakers succeed in passing a bill requiring the Air Force to keep the A-10 in its the service's fleet for another year, too few it will limit the amount of maintenance personnel would available to stand up the first operating unit of the F-35 at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and even fewer to continue maintenance of the F-16, the service told congressional staff in a recent briefing. The base is expected to begin receiving F-35s later this year.
The Air Force planned, if authorized given the proper authorization, would be to move F-16s from Hill to replace retiring A-10s at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and Fort Wayne Air National Guard Base, Indiana.
But if that plan is blocked, the Air Force cannot move the F-16s from Hill. Meanwhile, tThe Falcon units would lose maintenance personnel to the new F-35 units, causing the F-16s them to “lose deployable capability as maintenance personnel begin F-35 training,” according to an Air Force talking paper obtained by Air Force Times.
Nevertheless, Meanwhile, iIt is looking more likely that the Air Force again will be directed to keep the A-10s flying. House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, in his markup of the defense bill included $682.7 million for the fleet. The bill will go to the full committee Wednesday tomorrow, and multiple senators have also vowed to keep the planes flying.
The Air Force wanted to move the F-16s to the bases as soon as possible, following environmental impact studies. But the requirement to keep the A-10s at the bases would prompt the service to move the F-16s to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, "until such a time they are transferred to another base or divested permanently."
The Utah base will be the first operational location for the F-35s, with it expected to have 72 of the jets. The base currently has 48 Bblock 40 F-16s. The overlap means there will not be enough maintainers available for the F-35 standup, and will delay intiail operating capability from late 2016 for at least another year, according to the Air Force paper.
The Air Force has said it needs 1,100 trained maintainers to reach initial operating capability for the F-35. Lawmakers have previously blasted Air Force concerns on theis maintainer issue, saying it is a "false choice."
After the F-35 program executive Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan raised the issue last fall and said he was worried about the impact on IOC, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said there are other ways to move money and personnel to support both the A-10 and F-35.
"Suggesting that we must prematurely retire the A-10 to fulfill long-anticipated maintenance requirements for the F-35A is a false choice," Ayotte said in a statement to Defense News, sister publication of Air Force Times. "There are a variety of steps the Air Force can take to maintain the combat-proven and cost-efficient A-10, while also providing sufficient maintenance personnel for the F-35A.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh has vowed to reach initial operating capability on time, despite a possible issue with having enough maintenance personnel. This includes hiring private contractors and increasing additional use of Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve personnel.