The Air Force says it would save $3.7 billion by eliminating the 353-aircraft A-10 fleet. (Airman 1st Class Benjamin Wiseman / Air Force)
Air National Guard leaders and governors are offering strong support for an Air Force plan to replace A-10 fleets with new missions in six states — unlike a vocal group of congressional lawmakers who have said they will fight to save the Warthog.
State adjutants general and governors are behind the plan because it has been made clear to them that the new missions are important, said Lt. Gen. Stanley Clarke, director of the Air National Guard.
“I tell them that, as an airman, I have flown the missions. I have flown both aircraft,” Clarke told Air Force Times Wednesday following a National Press Club event in Washington, D.C. “When I explain to them and tell them ‘What your airmen are going to be doing is important to the nation,’ they get it.”
The Air Force says it would save $3.7 billion by eliminating the 353-aircraft A-10 fleet that is beloved for its close air support role, but targeted by the brass because of its age and single-mission ability. While active-duty A-10 units would lose their A-10s and not receive a follow-on mission, Guard and Air Force Reserve units losing A-10s would gain new missions:
■Beginning in 2015, the A-10 unit at Gowen Field Air National Guard Base near Boise, Idaho, would transfer to a classic association with F-15E units at nearby Mountain Home Air Force Base.
■In 2017, the Guard A-10 unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., would receive eight KC-135s.
■In 2018, the Guard A-10 unit at Martin State Air National Guard Base, Md., would receive eight C-130Js, while the Reserve unit at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., would receive 18 F-16s.
■In 2019, a Reserve unit at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., and a Guard unit at Fort Wayne, Ind., would both receive 18 F-16s.
The Air Foce has worked hard to put together transition plans for the units that are in A-10s now, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said at the Press Club. Leaders are “looking at, for those Guard and Reserve units impacted by losing the A-10, is there a plan where we can move other hardware into the reserve component to transition those units into missions that are viable for the long term?” he said. “That is what we owe our reserve component.”
Airmen themselves will support the plan, Clarke said, especially in the Guard where pilots and maintainers have long experience on the A-10 and would have to retrain to another aircraft.
“While they may want to stay with the A-10, they will move on to something else because they want to serve. They like wearing this uniform and they love serving,” Clarke said. “The airplanes might change and the missions might change, but as long as they have the opportunity to serve and they are value-added, they’ll move on and do it.”
This support has not stretched to Capitol Hill, however. Earlier this month, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and other lawmakers said they plan to block the retirement through amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act.
Welsh said Wednesday that the Air Force has looked at every possible way to find other savings, including possibly retiring more than 360 F-16s or the entire B-1B fleet. Those options, however, would create undue risk in other mission areas. The service also looked at retaining some recently upgraded A-10s, but that would create just about $1 billion in savings, compared to the $3.7 billion that could be saved by cutting the entire fleet.