CAPITOL HILL: Aside from Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the reaction from Capitol Hill to the Air Force plan for retiring the ugly and beloved A-10 has been relatively muted and may remain so. Why would Congress, beloved for going slightly nuts whenever the military tries to retire a ship, aircraft squadron, or anything else that means jobs in their districts or states, not rail against this sweet plane going quietly into the night? They will be replaced at most A-10 bases by F-16s, C-130Js or KC-135s so few or no jobs or money will be lost.
The Air Force has crafted a plan in stark contrast to its efforts last year to trim assets. And the reaction to this one has, so far, been quite muted. The slide above, which depicts the shifts and their timing, was part of a detailed briefing to professional staff and Military Legislative Aides in the last week that included classified assessments of the various tradeoffs the Air Force considered to save the $3.7 billion the Air Force expects to save. Among the scenarios gamed: sending the entire B-1 bomber fleet to the boneyard; pushing 40 F-35 As to the far out years; and retiring 356 F-16s. The Air Force, Chief of Staff Mark Welsh told me after today’s House Armed Services Committee hearing, ran war games to assess the impacts of each action. The retirement of the A-10 fleet was found to be the least disruptive to America’s global capabilities.
Members did discuss the A-10 today at today’s House hearing, including Rep. Vicky Hartzler. Whiteman Air Force Base, home to an A-10 Reserve unit, sits in her district. She was not convinced by the Air Force’s arguments saying she did not “agree that a B-1″ can do the same job as an A-10. The Air Force argues that precision weapons have replaced the need for the A-10’s depleted uranium cannon shells. Hartzler said she believes ground troops “want to see the A-10 coming over that horizon.”
Several other members voiced what sounded like pro-forma objections to the A-10’s retirements. When Welsh answered their objections they appeared to accept his explanations. Gen. Welsh brings a certain authority to the issue, having been an A-10 pilot himself.
Here’s how the transfers will work. In 2016, for example, the National Guard A-10 unit at Selfridge will switch to KC-135s. And Hartzler’s Reserve A-10 unit at Whiteman would receive F-16s from Hill. So the bases will switch missions and aircraft, but few people or money will be lost. Those are deals to which Congress may well agree.