Phasing out the A-10 attack aircraft could cost Tucson 2,000 jobs — and that’s just one of many changes in store for Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, the proposed 2015 Air Force budget shows.
If Congress approves the cuts, D-M would see ongoing — though, in some cases, diminished — missions including electronic warfare and unmanned aircraft operations.
Among the proposed changes:
- Most significantly, the base would lose its entire fleet of 83 A-10 Thunderbolt IIs by the 2019 fiscal year.
- It also would lose seven EC-130H Compass Call electronic warfare planes by fiscal 2016. The base now operates 15 Compass Call aircraft, which are converted 1950s-era cargo planes that jam enemy communications and provide other electronic countermeasures, said Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon. Used extensively in the early stages of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Compass Call aircraft are operated exclusively at D-M by the 55th Electronic Combat Group, which reports to the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.
- An Air National Guard unmanned-aircraft unit stationed at D-M would lose responsibility for three MQ-1 Predator drones. But it would gain operations of six newer and more capable MQ-9 Reaper drones in fiscal 2015 through 2017. Though the drones are operated by the Guard unit at D-M, the actual aircraft are based elsewhere, D-M spokeswoman Capt. Susan Harrington said.
- An Air Force Reserve unit at D-M would add 21 F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets in fiscal 2019, essentially replacing Reserve-operated A-10s.
The head of a group supporting D-M said that while it’s encouraging that the Air Force envisions continued operations at D-M, scrapping the A-10 would be a major blow.
“There are some things there that still keep it functional, though you’re taking the guts out of it when you eliminate the flying missions, obviously,” said Mike Grassinger, president of the DM50 and a former Air Force pilot.
Among other significant functions at D-M, Grassinger cited the presence of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG); a significant headquarters operation of the 12th Air Force, which includes the major air component of the U.S. Southern Command; and the Air Force’s only active-duty rescue wing dedicated to combat search and rescue.
While some 9,100 military members and civilians work at D-M, not including contractors and more than 600 employed at the AMARG, the loss of the A-10s would cause the loss of about 2,000 jobs there, Grassinger said.
The loss of significant missions would also make D-M more vulnerable to the next round of base cuts under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, or BRAC, Grassinger said.
While federal law prevents any BRAC actions until 2015, the Air Force said last week that it would welcome any base-closing move before then, and Grassinger said there is some talk of initiating BRAC cuts in 2017.
“The signals we’re getting is that Davis-Monthan is one of the better bases in the country in terms of flying,” he said. “But if and when they get to another round of closures, it’s going to be considered along with everything else, and there is some vulnerability there.”
In the last BRAC round approved in 2005, 22 major military bases were closed and 33 others were “realigned,” a process of consolidation including both reductions and expansions.