Former Arizona Congressman Ron Barber confirmed on Thursday that the Air Force was pulling experienced maintenance crews off the A-10 and reassigning them to the F-35. Barber, a staunch advocate for the A-10, said the Air Force was using sequestration as “an excuse” for the reckless reassignment.
Appearing on the popular James T. Harris radio show, Barber said, “The fight’s not over. We won a stay – if you will – for a year, and now we’ve got to, I hope, see a longer extension of time for the A-10. Year to year to year, is better than no years, but it is certainly not the best way to go.”
The congressman, the son of an Air Force veteran, spoke frankly of his affinity for the A-10, and the dishonesty of the USAF leadership. “If you go anywhere in the country and across the world, you know the Air Force’s proposal – because it has not been implemented yet – to divest of the A-10 is proven to be wrong and certainly premature because we have them deployed in Europe again and also in the Middle East.”
Barber said the Air Force’s proposal “has never made any sense to me and a lot of other people in Congress. They say it is about money and sequestration, and certainly sequestration has hurt the Department of Defense a lot. We’re seeing – I think – a very dangerous hollowing out of our military and our national security apparatus, and I think that’s wrong we need to stop sequestration. At least as it involves those for functions of government which are the essential functions to make sure this nation is secure and our troops are given what they need to protect them and give them their the weapons they need to fight when they are sent to theater.’
Barber recalled his questioning of the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Welch, during a hearing of the Armed Service Committee. “I said general why are you doing this, and he said in a word ‘congressman, sequestration.’ So, I followed up that question by saying to him – so if we could find a way to give you the money that you needed to fly the A-10 would you continue to do it – and he said ‘well..’ you know… yeah… he would have to think about it. So, I think it’s bigger than sequestration, quite frankly. I think that’s been excuse to ground an aircraft that the Air Force doesn’t think it needs anymore, but it clearly does. The troops need it – certainly – and that’s why it needs to fly.”
“I think there’s another part of this, and it’s only beginning to come out in recent weeks and months, and that is the Air Force wants to take the crews that maintain the A-10 and shift them over to the F-35 and train them on the new aircraft, and that’s one way of not having them pay more for the F-35. Just take it from one platform to another and I think that’s very shortsighted. If the F-35 is needed we should provide it with the money for maintenance crews, and the A-10 is certainly needed. There is there is no doubt my mind.”
Earlier this month, Jane’s Defense Weekly reported that the “Pentagon plans to move some A-10s to ‘backup flying status’ in order to allow maintenance personnel to be shifted to the F-35A.” As a result, Davis Monthan, for example, will lose approximately 9 aircraft and 150 direct jobs. This is the plan, now dubbed by USAF observers “Operation Destroy CAS” is a continuation of the Air Force’s never ending war against the A-10.
Back Up Aircraft Inventory (BAI) doesn’t mean the jets are mothballed; it means we lose the manpower and flying hours to operate them at normal levels. For example, a normal aircraft might fly 14 times per month, a BAI aircraft might only fly 4 times per month. It will still fly but just not as often due to the flying hours and maintenance manning reductions. Experts say that putting the jets into BAI cuts flying hours and reduces our combat capability as a nation. The F-35 will not be fully combat ready until 2023 or later.
Last year, Senator Kelly Ayotte and Congressman Barber successfully fought the Air Force. Ayotte managed to block the Air Force’s effort to mothball the A-10 immediately, but in an 11th hour, back room maneuver, “The Big 4,” the ranking SASC members – SASC Chairman Levin, SASC Ranking Member Inhofe, HASC Chairman McKeon, and HASC Ranking Member Smith inserted a provision in the FY2015 NDAA that called for a Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) assessment. Should that assessment find that mothballing the A-10 would not harm readiness; the Air Force could proceed with Operation Destroy CAS.
This month, to no one’s surprise, the Air Force concluded that assessment showed the need for the divestment of the A-10.