Air Force may delay A-10 retirement

Air Force may delay A-10 retirement
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The Air Force is considering delaying the retirement of the A-10 Warthog attack aircraft for several years, a top Air Force commander said Tuesday — a move that Congress and troops would embrace.

The Air Force has been trying for years to retire the A-10 — which provides troops on the ground with close air support — in favor of the newer F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but new demands have caused leaders to rethink that plan, said Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command. 

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"We have to retire the airplanes, but I think moving it to the right and starting it a bit later and maybe keeping around the airplane a bit longer is something that's being considered based on things as they are today and what we see in the future," Carlisle told reporters at the Defense Writers Group breakfast. 

"I think if you look at what we'd like to do is probably a couple of squadrons maybe early, because we have F-16s coming out of Hill [Air Force Base], and we'd like to transition A-10s to F-16s in a couple of different places, but I think the majority of it we would move it a couple of years, two to three years, to the right."

Previous Air Force plans sought to retire the Cold War-era plane, also known as the "tank killer," by 2021. Officials argued that the F-35 and other platforms could perform the close air support mission.

Carlisle said factoring into the consideration to delay the A-10's retirement is the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), other military commitments and the slower procurement rate for the replacement F-35.

"One of our challenges today is capacity. If you look at the demand signal that's placed on the United States Air Force across all of our mission areas, the demand signal has gone up, things have changed a bit, obviously we're in Turkey now which we weren't before the fight against ISIL and Daesh," he said using alternate names for ISIS. 

"What's happening in Yemen, what's happening in the Horn of Africa, what's happening in Libya, combined with the fact we're not leaving Afghanistan ... for at least one more year there, has all put a greater demand on the capacity of the United States Air Force across all the mission areas," he added. 

Congress for years has pushed back against the Air Force's plans to retire the aircraft, Ground troops have long praised the A-10, saying its performance saved lives in battle in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. 

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and strong supporter of the A-10, said she welcomed the news that the Air Force was considering delaying its retirement. 

"I've long been pushing to keep the A-10. It's the best close air support platform," she said Tuesday. "I think we need to keep this platform until there's an equivalent...We think our troops need the best close air support platform and the A-10 does that, by the way, as the lowest cost per flying hour." 

Carlisle said as Air Combat Commander, he was personally responsible for sending the latest deployment of the aircraft to an airbase in Incirlik, Turkey, as part of the fight against ISIS.

"I will tell you I'm the one that's sending them. So if I have them, I'm going to use them, because they're a fantastic airplane and I'm going to take advantage of them," he said.  

"So I will tell you, I have A-10s and I will use them because they are a fantastic airplane. The guys are incredibly well-trained and they do fantastic work in support of the joint war fight," he continued. "They're doing fantastic work and we're very proud of them."

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), a former A-10 pilot and squadron commander whose state is home to an A-10 squadron, said consideration to delay the A-10’s retirement was the administration’s “same ploy only in a different disguise.” 

“Over the last 3 years, the Administration has already mothballed the equivalent of 4 A-10 squadrons, leaving us with only 9 to carry out the critical missions for which the A-10 is best suited,” she said, referring to the Pentagon's actions short of retiring the aircraft. 

"As it has always been, the plan to retire the A-10 ahead of schedule is irresponsible and reckless. No plane in our inventory or under development can match the A-10's unique capabilities to provide Close Air Support - capabilities that are in increasing demand,” she said.  

“A-10s are now deployed in the fight against ISIS, in Europe to deter Russian aggression, and along the border with North Korea. We just invested over $1 billion to keep this asset flying until 2028. Until there's a suitable replacement, we absolutely need to keep this life-saving capability in the air."