On February 25, 2015, Senator Kelly Ayotte, and seven other senators wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter confirming that the USAF intends to put up to 36 A-10’s on backup status. Ayotte (R-NH), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, led the effort to send a message week to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter in opposition to the Air Force’s plan to place 18 A-10s on backup aircraft inventory (BAI) status, a move she called a “back-door” divestment.
Placing the A-10s on BAI status reduces the unit’s flight hours and allows the Air Force to move maintenance personnel out of the units—which will result in a serious deterioration of A-10 unit readiness.
In the letter, Ayotte and seven other senators urged Secretary Carter to stop the Air Force from implementing its BAI plan until he and Congress can scrutinize the Air Force’s BAI plan. The letter was also signed by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Richard Burr (R-NC).
Senator Ayotte has led the fight against the Air Force’s plan to prematurely retire the A-10 before a replacement aircraft achieves full operational capability, which would create a close air support capability gap that will endanger the lives of our troops in future conflicts.
The Air Force plans to convert, as soon as possible, A-10s to BAI at three locations: Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ (9 aircraft); Moody AFB, GA (6 aircraft); and Nellis AFB, NV (3 aircraft). This will result in a shift of 150 maintenance positions from these locations.
The Air Force fiscal year 2016 budget request seeks to divest 164 A-10s in fiscal year 2016, completing the entire divestment of the A-10 by fiscal year 2019. Under the Air Force proposal, in fiscal year 2016, all active duty A-10s, plus the Air National Guard unit A-10s in Idaho, will be divested. There are about 283 A-10s remaining in the fleet, and under the Air proposal approximately 58% of the remaining A-10s would be divested next fiscal year.
The text of the letter follows:
February 25, 2015
Dear Secretary Carter:
We write with deep concern that the Air Force is poised to implement its A-10 backup aircraft inventory (BAI) status plan. This step will damage the readiness of the Air Force’s A-10 fleet and reduce our nation’s close air support (CAS) capability at a time when the need for effective close air support is more apparent than ever. We request that you not permit the Air Force to implement its plan to place A-10s on BAI status until Congress can fully scrutinize the readiness impacts of the Air Force’s proposal and until you can independently examine the Air Force’s A-10 divestment proposal, including the Air Force’s BAI plan.
During your first week in office, we have been impressed by your eagerness to re-examine current policy, ask tough questions, and challenge entrenched bureaucratic viewpoints. You have already visited Afghanistan and Kuwait to determine if our plans against the Taliban and ISIS need improvement. We ask you to bring that same level of scrutiny to the Air Force’s proposal to divest the A-10, including its plans to place A-10s on BAI status. In the coming weeks, Congress will apply that continued scrutiny as well.
The A-10 is the Air Force’s most combat-effective and cost-efficient close air support aircraft. Close air support experts believe that the A-10 provides capabilities that no other aircraft can replicate. This is not just another fight over a Department of Defense weapons program; this is about what kind of help we will provide our ground troops when they are pinned down by enemy fire and call for help. Your decisions regarding the A-10 will determine whether Americans and our allies in future battles will be able to accomplish their missions and return safely to their families. We cannot imagine a more serious obligation.
Despite the growing need for the CAS capabilities that the A-10 provides, as evidenced by the deployment of A-10s to fight ISIS and deter additional aggression in Europe, the Air Force continues to attempt to pursue a ‘back-door’ divestment of the A-10 using a BAI plan. The House and Senate voted in an overwhelming, bipartisan, and bicameral manner to prohibit the divestment of the A-10 in fiscal year (FY) 2015.
Under Section 133 of the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Air Force is only authorized to implement the BAI plan if, after receiving a Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) assessment, the Secretary of Defense certifies that the BAI plan is required to avoid a significant degradation of the readiness of the fight fleet or a significant delay in the fielding of the F-35 aircraft. CAPE has completed their assessment and on February 2, 2015, former Secretary Hagel notified Congress in writing of his intent to authorize the Air Force to implement the BAI plan.
We believe the CAPE report, as well as the former Secretary’s certification based on that report, represents a disappointing rubber stamp of the Air Force’s misguided fiscal year 2016 A-10 divestment proposal. We call your attention to three facts related to the CAPE assessment that demonstrate the need for a reexamination of the Air Force’s A-10 proposals.
First, the CAPE assessment says divestment of active duty A-10s or use of the BAI plan is the most “effective” way to reduce maintenance personnel shortages, including those for the F-35A. It is obvious that divesting large numbers of A-10s—or any other aircraft—or placing them on BAI status would free up a significant number of maintenance personnel for other purposes. We did not need CAPE to establish that fact in a vacuum, while assiduously ignoring the impact on our ground troops of such a decision. The question for CAPE was whether there are other ways to meet maintenance personnel requirements that do not involve gutting the readiness of our nation’s best close air support aircraft.
Second, the CAPE assessment identified several ways to attain a significant number of additional maintenance personnel that do not require implementation of the destructive A-10 BAI plan. For example, CAPE specifically suggested that the use of reserve component activations, high year tenure extensions, and retention bonuses could provide an increased number of maintenance personnel. It is noteworthy that the CAPE assessment concludes that the Air Force is only “considering” the use of retention bonuses. It seems unacceptable that the Air Force would gut the readiness of A-10 units before exercising other available options to maximum effect. While these courses of action may not provide as many maintenance personnel as divesting an entire fleet of aircraft or mothballing large numbers of aircraft, these alternative courses of action could provide a significant number of maintenance personnel without gutting the readiness of A-10 units and reducing our nation’s close air support capabilities.
Third, CAPE’s assessment of the inadequacy of the potential use of contractors to address the shortfall in F-35A maintenance personnel is not persuasive. We note that the Air Force plans to use contractors to address some of the F-35A maintenance personnel shortfall. The willingness of the Air Force to use contractors for 300 full-time equivalent positions begs the question whether the Air Force could make greater use of contractors for initial F-35A maintenance in fiscal years 2015 and 2016 in order to protect the readiness of A-10 units.
We admire your focus on the welfare of our troops and your willingness to question policies that may need renewed scrutiny. We ask you to bring that approach to bear on the Air Force’s A-10 divestment proposal, including its plan to place a portion of the A-10 fleet on BAI status. Congress will certainly continue to do so in the coming weeks. Absent your intervention, the Air Force will proceed with a plan that will result in the loss of close air support capability at a time when the need for it is only growing.
Thank you for your distinguished service to our country.
Kelly A. Ayotte, United States Senator
Tom Cotton, United States Senator
Lindsey Graham, United States Senator
Thom Tillis, United States Senator
Roger Wicker, United States Senator
Mike Crapo, United States Senator
Johnny Isakson, United States Senator
Richard Burr, United States Senator
In accordance with Section 133 of the 2015 NDAA, the Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) and Chief of Staff of the Air Force (CSAF) have directed the conversion of 18 A-10s to backup aircraft inventory (BAI) status as soon as practical. The SecAF decided to move only 18 A-10s to BAI in order to ensure that the affected squadrons maintain the minimum primary aircraft inventory (PAI) required to sustain a deployable capability.”
The Air Force will convert aircraft to BAI at three locations: Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ (9 aircraft); Moody AFB, GA (6 aircraft); and Nellis AFB, NV (3 a= ircraft). This will result in a shift of 150 maintenance positions from these locations to current F-35 bases to include: Luke AFB, AZ; Hill AFB, UT; Nellis AFB, NV; and Edwards AFB, CA. These personnel relocations will generate out of cycle permanent-change-of-station (PCS) costs of approximately $3.0M in FY15 and will be complete by the end of calendar year 2015.
Additionally, the Air Force will seek interim contract support (ICS) for th= e second aviation maintenance unit at Luke AFB. The ICS option is for a short-duration (no more than two years) to fill approximately 300 full-time equivalents (FTE) and will support F-35A training operations. We expect the contract award by May 2015 with all contract support personnel in place by January 2016. The expected cost for this ICS option is $12M in FY15 and $25M in FY16.
Further, the Air Force will convert the 4th Fighter Squadron at Hill AFB (F-16s) to F-35A ahead of schedule in order to cross-train critical maintenan= ce personnel in place in support of F-35 initial operational capability (IOC) in August 2016. The disposition of the Hill AFB assigned F-16 aircraft is still to be determined.
The SecAF and CSAF will continue to monitor manning requirements through the summer and may exercise a number of options. This could include executing the remaining authorized 18 BAI conversions early this fall. The Air Force is also investigating opportunities to capitalize on Total Force opportunities with its National Guard and Reserve components. Despite these efforts, the Air Force remains concerned with the impact to F-35A IOC (August 2016) if Congressional prohibitions on legacy force structure changes continue. The 2015 NDAA-directed independent assessment by the Director of Cost Asessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) supports the determination that the limited supply of experienced maintainers increases significantly the risk to the readiness of the legacy fleet. The transfer of aircraft to back-up flying status will provide only limited benefit long term.
As we solidify details (e.g., status of the ICS contract process, specific units from which BAI will come), we will provide that information to you. Please let us know if you have any questions.
B.D. “Billy Ray” Thompson, Colonel USAF