The Air Force plans to retire 42 A-10 aircraft at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base next year, a move that would cut the base’s fleet of the storied “Warthogs” in half, according to an Arizona congresswoman.
U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Tucson, identified the proposed cuts in letters to the Air Force and to House committees that said cutting the planes would harm military readiness and “bring serious harm to the economy in the community I represent.”
Kirkpatrick, who said she was not briefed on the plan, called the move “inexcusable” in a statement Monday.
The Air Force unveiled plans to reduce the A-10 fleet in the fiscal 2021 budget proposal released in February but did not identify specific sites. The proposal called only for retiring 44 “of the oldest and least ready” A-10s as the Air Force shifts to newer-generation aircraft.
“I find it incredibly alarming that the Air Force would put out plans without properly briefing Congress nor transparency about the replacement process and timelines,” Kirkpatrick’s statement said.
“The A-10 Warthog has a mission to protect our men and women in battle and I am committed to fighting in Congress to protect its mission.”
An Air Force spokesman did not comment directly on Kirkpatrick’s claim Monday, only repeating earlier statements that the service was committed to a $161 million upgrade of remaining A-10s, “our most effective close-air-support platform.”
A spokesman for Davis-Monthan said he had not heard about A-10s at the base being affected.
“Decisions on the potential divestiture of U.S. Air Force aircraft happen at levels higher than Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment on possible programming plans,” said Capt. Elias J. Small.
When the budget proposal was released, state lawmakers said they would fight to ensure A-10s at Davis-Monthan wouldn’t take the hit. A-10 pilots are trained and deployed at Davis-Monthan, which had 83 of the aircraft in its fleet as of Tuesday, according to D-M.
U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a retired Air Force colonel who flew the A-10 in combat, said in February that she met with Air Force officials and told them “point-blank that I would not allow their plan to mothball 44 A-10s starting in October to happen.”
Requests for comment from McSally’s office on the latest threat to D-M were not immediately returned Monday.
This is not the first time the Air Force has targeted the A-10, a 1970s-era, heavily armed and heavily armored jet that is particularly known for its ability to support ground troops at low altitudes.
In 2014, the Air Force said it would phase out the A-10 over two years in a budget-cutting move and replace it first with F-16s and then with the new F-35s as they came online.
Then-U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, called the move “absolutely ridiculous” at the time.
McSally, then a House member from the Tucson area, stressed the aircraft’s “irreplaceable capabilities” and “the importance of A-10s to our troops’ lives and national security.”
On Thursday, Kirkpatrick wrote the House Armed Services Committee, asking it to “prohibit divestment or retirement of any A-10 aircraft” in this latest move by the Air Force.
She said the A-10 “plays a critical role in our military strategy in the Middle East and around the world.”
“The A-10 aircraft is the most critical and combat-effective component of the airpower support that the United States currently provides to its troops on the ground,” her letter said.
In a separate letter sent to the Air Force on March 27, Kirkpatrick questioned whether there was a plan to repurpose the 355th Fighter Wing squadrons without reducing the current size or if they would be relocated or substantially reduced.
She also asked whether the 355th would receive a new aircraft fleet if the A-10 mission is shut down, and how the approximately 450 traditional and full-time reservists, civilian and active-duty members who are assigned to the 355th A-10 maintenance squadron would be impacted.
As of Tuesday, Kirkpatrick’s questions remained unanswered.
Former U.S. Rep. Ron Barber said cutting in half the A-10 fleet would have a “devastating effect” on Davis-Monthan and on Tucson, stressing the base’s importance to the city’s economy.
Barber, who fought earlier battles to keep A-10s in use, said due to the plane’s unique low and slow capabilities, the Air Force “can’t afford to be without it.”
“It’s very shortsighted to downsize the A-10,” Barber said.
“There is no alternative aircraft that is able to provide the same kind of asset to men and women in battle.”
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