GAO: Air Force could be overstating savings from A-10 retirement

GAO: Air Force could be overstating savings from A-10 retirement
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Air Force plans to retire the A-10 "Warthog" attack jet would create potential gaps in close air support and other missions, said the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report published on Thursday.

In addition, the watchdog said the Air Force has not fully assessed cost savings associated with retiring the A-10, which is beloved by troops for its ability to provide close air support to those in ground combat. The jet was deployed to support troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and is currently deployed in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

Although the service has estimated that retiring the aircraft would save $4.2 billion over five years, the GAO said "our analysis found that the Air Force’s estimated savings are incomplete and may overstate or understate estimated savings." 

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The report strikes a blow to Air Force and Pentagon officials who say it is necessary to retire the A-10, and shift money and resources to newer, multi-role aircraft like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. 

Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race New Hampshire senator to ask 2020 Dems to back repeal of state residency law MORE (R-N.H.), the aircraft's most vocal supporter in the Senate, said the report reinforced what advocates have long argued. 

“The GAO findings reinforce what soldiers, special operators, and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers have said from the beginning: the premature divestment of the A-10 will create a close air support capability gap, increase the risk to our ground troops, and result in unnecessary American casualties," she said in a statement.

“If the Air Force decides to ignore the clear and consistent will of the overwhelming majority of soldiers, special operators, and JTACs, I will continue to stand with them in opposition to the Air Force’s plans to prematurely divest the A-10," she said. 

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), a retired Air Force colonel and a former A-10 pilot and squadron commander, called the report "welcome news." 

"Today’s report confirms what I have worked to highlight over months of hearings: that retiring the A-10 without a replacement would create dangerous capability gaps and put American lives at risk," she said in a statement.

"Not only did GAO find that divesting the A-10 would eliminate our ability to conduct Close Air Support, Combat Search and Rescue, and other critical capabilities, but that the Administration's budget justification for doing so is based on incomplete information," she said. 

The report said retirement of the A-10 "results in an overall capacity decrease" in the Air Force's ability to perform close air support. 

The reduction could be mitigated by phasing the A-10's retirement over several years and introducing the F-35 into the fleet, but Air Force documentation shows that the F-35's close air support capability "would be limited for several years," it said. 

The retirement of the A-10 would "increase operational risks" in one planning scenario set in 2020, the report said.  

Its retirement could also contribute to gaps in the Air Force's training of close air support aircrews, its wide range of weapons and its operational capabilities, including its ability to operate in austere environments and under the weather, it said.

In addition, the report states that the A-10 is "currently either the only or best Air Force platform" to conduct certain complex missions such as ones requiring aircraft trained to "coordinate rescue missions, escort helicopters, and suppress enemy forces or countering swarming small boats that could pose a threat to U.S. ships." 

The report said the Air Force is, however, considering a number of steps to mitigate the loss of the A-10, such as transitioning A-10 personnel to F-16 and F-15E units, and studying whether those aircraft can replace the A-10 in some missions. It is also planning to increase training on simulators, the report said. 

The Air Force responded that the GAO did not fully incorporate evidence of the potential risks to air superiority and global strike that could be created by the added cost of retaining the A-10 fleet. 

The GAO said it will be conducting a more detailed assessment of these issues and report the final results later this year.  

 

-- Updated 6/26/15 at 12:07 p.m.