The arguments for retirement or retention of the Air Force's A-10 close air support platform are well known. The Air Force needs budget space for new, more survivable capabilities. The A-10 does close air support extraordinarily well, but the Air Force has five fighters and three bombers that do it also, as well as deep interdiction, standoff attack and, in four cases, air-to-air combat.
A-10 advocates raise the specter of Americans dying if the A-10 is not available to do what it does so well. Not insignificantly, the aircraft also provides jobs in congressional districts.
The debate is emotional, increasingly heated, and has claimed one general officer casualty. What is missing from the discussion is a sense of good order and discipline.
The Congress and the Air Force leadership will sort out the retirement or retention issue. That is their job. What is puzzling is Air Force members who see it as their responsibility or obligation to lend their voices to the discussion with Congress — usually advocating retention of the A-10s. An Air Force general officer recently expressed his frustration with airmen taking their views directly to Congress. He was reported to have used the term "treason," a word choice he would likely agree was not appropriate. He has been removed from his position. ["Fired for treason comment," April 20 issue]
The general's comments were made to aviators at a tactics conference. An Air Force member in the audience was sufficiently agitated to ensure they were made known to Congress. Congress expressed outrage that a senior officer should suggest service members cannot talk to their elected representatives. The Air Force chief of staff agreed that airmen certainly have that right.
But this is not about free speech. It is about good order and discipline. The Air Force secretary and chief of Staff, in consultation with senior commanders, determine what force structure priorities should be. After considerable discussion, with strong, sometimes opposing opinions being expressed, the secretary and chief forward a recommendation through the Defense Department to the president and ultimately to Congress. Among these senior leaders are combat veterans with close air support expertise, some with considerable A-10 experience. The decisions they make are based on their mission experience and an awareness of the many other mission obligations the service has.
The views of airmen in the field are neither unknown to nor taken lightly by senior leaders. But, these airmen have neither the responsibility nor the perspective required to determine how best to meet the Air Force's myriad global missions within the resources available. The ethos of military professionals requires that senior leaders make decisions and give direction that is legal, moral and ethical. Individuals of lesser rank and responsibility are obliged to support those decisions, or depart service.
Those who decide to take their opposing views directly to Congress are not whistle-blowers — priorities are matters of judgment and there is no scandal here. Nor are they traitors — they are within their legal rights. They are simply insubordinate — they have denied the authority of their senior leadership.
Characterizing direct discussion with Congress as treason was inappropriate, but the encouragement of insubordination by Congress is also troubling. The leaders of the armed services are charged with communicating their best, unfettered military advice to their civilian leaders. They have that specific responsibility. Airmen taking their personal, opposing views directly to Congress is prejudicial to good order and discipline.
Professional airmen know better. One would think Congress should as well.
Gen. Roger Brady (ret.)