USAF A-10 plans will “create more Gold Star families”

As the United States Air Force “steers” the Close Air Support summit message, more details emerge as to its ability to fight the battles at hand and its maneuvers to fight a war that might never occur. Those maneuvers shook up a group of JTACs a week before the summit in their meeting with Secretary of Air Force Debra James and Air Force Chief of Staff, General Mark Welsh.

On February 27, Welsh, James and members of the JTAC community met at the Pentagon to discuss Close Air Support and the role of the A-10. According to Charlie Keebaugh, former JTAC and head of the TACP Association, Welsh and James met at the request of JTACs, who were concerned about the USAF plans to mothball the A-10.

Keebaugh, a Ranger qualified JTAC who served on active duty for 10 years as an Air Force JTAC and TACP Instructor, was joined by two Silver Star winners and one 30 year Chief Master Sergeant among others in the hour long meeting with James and Welsh. He described the at times tense meeting in a recent interview on the James T. Harris radio show out of Tucson, AZ. (Listen to interview here.)

In his interview Keebaugh, confirmed reports there exists an unofficial pro-A-10 gag order placed on members of the Air Force. “Well, we went up with some guys, who had won Silver Stars for their actions in battle,” and “took a 30 year retired Chief Master Sergeant,” stated Keebaugh. “A lot of the guys we invited to go, were basically told they couldn’t go. There is an unofficial gag order out there,” stated Keebaugh.

Keebaugh said the group met for about an hour. “We gave them out thoughts,” said Keebaugh. “They were very receptive. They listened to our opinions, but like I said – as we just get past Major General Post’s statements – who called guys traitors for discussing the capabilities of the A-10 with Congress – we’ve got senior leaders trying to squash opinions of guys, and we told the Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of Staff that a lot of guys are being told that they can’t give their opinion, and they seemed surprised by that and it doesn’t make – doesn’t make sense – because Major General Post is at work today,” said a frustrated Keebaugh.

Many believed, like Keebaugh that Post should have been fired for his comments made at the Tactics Review Board at Nellis Air Force Base in January.  The USAF leadership came under fire for the comments after Senator Kelly Ayotte called for an investigation.

“He makes those statements at the Weapons and Tactics Conference in Las Vegas – to a room full of warriors that have been battling the enemy for fourteen years – and these are guys that are the best and brightest in the Air force – these are the weapons officers of every squadron,” said Keebaugh. “He basically threatens them and tries to use his position to keep them quiet – for whatever reason – and that is the sort of toxic environment that we have going on right now. So it was surprising that the guys on the battlefield – their opinion is… not what the Secretary and CSAF are hearing. So, it is a very filtered message that has made its way to them, and we tried to give them an unfiltered message straight from the guys who are coming off the battlefield about what kind of impact it’s going to have on them if this A-10 is retired.”

Keebaugh told Harris, “Legally they can’t punish you,” said Keebaugh, “but guys feel very threatened as far as their career progression goes….”

Keebaugh, who deployed to Afghanistan with the 75th Ranger Regiment, and Bosnia and Kuwait with conventional forces, questioned the USAF A-10 decision. He quoted Senator Lindsey Graham, “The only people excited about getting rid of the A-10 is our enemy,” and concluded, “which they are clearly seeing now as ISIS is being devastated by the awesome effects of the A-10.”

Almost as devastating to the Air Force as the bad PR generated in response to its anti-A-10 Operation Destroy CAS campaign, is the news that also came out of the summit that JTACs, like Keebaugh are in short supply.

According Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, head of the service’s Air Combat Command, the JTAC shortage is an issue “at a time when American warplanes such as the F-15, F-16 and A-10 are back in the Middle East launching airstrikes against militants affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS,” according to an article in Military.com.

“The JTAC is a the guy on the ground responsible for taking what the ground commander wants to do on the battle field and takes the aircraft and implements those into the battle scheme and uses those aircraft to take out enemy targets,” Keebaugh told Harris. “So he is the guy typically, with eyes on the enemy coordinating with the guys on the ground, and making sure the aircraft engage the correct folks. So that we are not unnecessarily killing civilians, we are not putting our own guys at risk of fratricide and we are looking for the bad guys and putting bombs on their heads.”

Keebaugh, who has worked with all types of planes as a JTAC; “Anything with wings, I controlled it.” Keebaugh concluded, “Every JTAC that we have spoken to they are appalled that (A-10 divestment) is even on the table. It is funny that we are even being asked at this point. The Air Force has already made a decision – yet, now we are having a CAS summit to talk about how we are going to go forward? All these decisions, all these bits of information, all this input from key players should have been – you would think it would have been – discussed prior to the Air Force making such a decision like this. There are guys on the battlefield today that are using this aircraft and there is nothing else that can replace it.”

Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more evident that the Air Force is not fighting for the battlefield today, but one that might exist tomorrow. One which has no need for the CAS provided by JTACS and A-10s. They are spending billions on a doomsday scenario. To that end, they went so far as to scrub capability and capacity gaps as a result of divesting the A-10 from slides prepared for the summit, Operation Destroy CAS Update: Air Force “Steers” the Summit Message.

“With the “official” summit results in hand, the AF can now say, “look, we assembled the best and brightest of our CAS experts and this is the direction they have provided.” Unfortunately, the loud and clear message “if the A-10 is divested, the bar of performance for CAS will forever be lowered” was never delivered to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. While editing context on slides briefed to general officers is a normal course of action, the content on the slides was carefully “steered” to remove all mention of risks identified by the summit attendees.”

“The Air Force – a lot of folks in D.C. have it in their mind that a JTAC gets shot at and he types in some grid coordinate and then data bursts it to an airplane and a bomb magically appears on the enemy’s head and the battle is over. That could not be further from the truth. It is very much a team work effort between the guy on the ground, the pilot in the aircraft, to locate that enemy, determine where he is, ensure that he has hostile intent to meet the rules of engagement set forth by that theater prior to engaging him, and that’s like I said – very much a team effort… If you are going to take away a very, very important team member in that engagement and give me some guy who, also a dedicated American flying another aircraft – don’t get me wrong – they are great at what they do. The problem is that they’ve got twelve different mission sets that they have to be very good at and CAS just being one of them, versus the A-10 who has Search and Rescue, and Close Air Support – CAS being the primary mission set. The guy flying the A-10 is a CAS professional. It’s what he does. He is a trusted member of the team as we are looking for the enemy. So no technology is going to replace the conversation that I’m going to have with the aircraft before we engage the target. I’m never going to data burst a grid coordinate and not talk to an F-35 pilot and have them engage something – it’s not going to happen.”

In his interview with Harris, Keebaugh discussed the fact that the new technologies will not get the current job done. “New technology is never the answer – it’s not going to be the answer to fighting the enemy we are fighting today – and we are going to have Americans unnecessarily die on the battlefield if this (A-10) is retired before a suitable system is fielded and put into use. And what that does is create more Gold Star families.”

Related articles:

Arizona’s “fall out” from A-10 BAI

Barber: the troops need the A-10, “that’s why it needs to fly”

DM, A-10 face fatal cuts by 2019

Buck McKeon’s A-10 Sell-Out

Air Force A-10 plans could cost Tucson up to $480 million annually

D-M, military retirees have $1.6 billion impact on community

The Case for the Warthog

13 Comments

  1. Dont worry about the bx or commissary, both will be gone. They are trying to phase out the commissaries now by cutting their funding, another is to try and lump in with the bx/px/nx systems. A plan that wont work as they are direct competitors in some areas. commissaries selling magazines and post cards etc, the px system selling groceries!

    No this will be a slightly used training location much like Selfridge in Mi, or some of the other reserve gaurd bases. BTW no ordinance is loaded at DM to the best of my knowledge, they go to Gila Bend for that.

    Once DM is gone look for ft huachuca to be next since there will not be a ability to deploy as from dm. Besides they are wanting to put all eggs in one basket ie. ft hood tx. Spoke with a lady we know yesterday and she said that the word is out that 18000 troops will be put out up in colo springs, ft carson in near future! Cutbacks are here and even with all the new buildings and stuff they will close it all down. Like I said I have been to closed installations and they are not pretty sights to see. The local economies dont seem to recover either, but its not DOD worry about the locals now is it.

    • DM does have a live load area for heavyweight ordnance. Both the A-10s and F-16s from the ANG use it, The area is located just east of the Runway 12 approach end on taxiway Delta. The ordnance storage area is just east of Kolb Road on the access road that goes to the small arms range, in fact, its pictured in the other article here regarding Huckelberry and the area of land he’s working to get.

      Gila Bend is used as the live load area for Luke AFBs F-16s when they go to carry heavyweight ordnance.

      Agreed, the commissary and BX may indeed likely disappear too.

      With regards to closed installations, it really depends where they are and what the local community does (or is able to do) with them. Some places like the former Reese AFB in Lubbock, TX; yeah, still looks alot like its former self when it shut down in the mid 1990s. George AFB over in Victorville, CA has fair use of the flightline and runways for their storage/maintenance operations, but still a good amount of unused former base infrastructure. And Williams AFB up the road in Chandler/Mesa, its doing more work now than it ever did as a base, with many diverse activities going on as well as airline service. Nothing huge, but far better off than before. So it seems to just depend on a host of factors.

  2. I agree, Raytheon will be gone right behind the A-10s. Alabama and Indiana, two of their big facility locations, actually appreciate the company and take care of them, unlike Pima County and the COT, which gives the company nothing but heartache here.

    New Tucson sign will say “Welcome to North Nogales.”

  3. Agreed with both of you.

    The only possible thing keeping DM open to any degree is the boneyard. However, at best (in my opinion), DM will end up like March AFB; that is, go from a active duty base, to a reserve base. Keep the boneyard, the runway, and part of the parking ramp, all to support the boneyard. Maybe keep the commissary and BX and some minor support services such as base operations, fire department, etc. The tenant units and their aircraft, cited above, will be moved elsewhere or back to their owned bases. The 355th Fighter Wing, once its two squadrons of A-10s it owns are gone, and if no F-16 squadrons come in to replace them here, the Fighter Wing may possibly become the 355th Air Base Wing, meaning it’s a Wing with no airplanes, and only exists to support base functions….assuming the base stays active duty. If the base goes to the Air Force Reserve or ANG, I could see the 162nd Fighter Wing from TIA moving over to DM to base their planes here, as they have to come to DM anyway when they want to go drop live, heavweight bombs (live heavy munitions don’t exist at TIA, the planes have to come to DM to get loaded up on those). Plus, Tucson airport wants the land the ANG base is located on.

    The rest of DM will be made public and cordoned off from what remains as an air base, thus the base severely shrinking in size. Base housing, all the various buildings/facilities, will all be parceled out to public or private entities: schools/universities, private corp’s, base housing and all the brand new solar farms there are all over the base, all will go to these. Maybe low income housing. Who knows. Similar kind of thing that happened to March, or even Williams AFB up in Mesa/Chandler.

  4. Why raytheon expansion. When DM closes raytheon will be going right behind it. The AF connection is all that keeps them here and without that connection they will just all go to alabama since the city and county think they are of no value. I have seen places where the military left and its not pretty. I know the city thinks it can survive, and it will but it will be MUCH SMALLER in size than it is now people and economy wise. They have never developed an economy to sustain anything and now its too late. The school systems do not produce quality students and thus many only invest up in east lA, and I guess there are some questions on what kind of students they produce. Now add in the leaving of the ‘tenured’ professors and their programs and the economy locally will definitely tank fast. Remember they are whining and crying that the state cut back on the admin types at the universities, they are not going to fund locall cc’s if the news is true so there goes pcc also. So yes this will be a quiet little lonly ghost town from what it once was and then all the NIMBY’s will move out since the 1 wont be able to afford to live here since all the freebies are gone, 2 have nothing to complain about without the military around, 3 start complaining that the economy stinks and will want to know why they cant sell their houses 4. may start a whining to have a shuttle to east la installed so they can think people will live here and work there. Much like the dream at one time of folks living and commuting from san manuel as a bedroom community!

    Oh well thats seems to be the future.

  5. either way DM is closing – I think they should consider moving TIA to that location – make TIA the Air Guard base as well as open the land to RMS for expansion

  6. Wow Mike, great information. With no ownership involved, the AF will be most happy to shed the base in the next round of BRAC closings when the A10’s are gone. It will take about 6 months or so to get the rest of the aircraft out but after that you are right, there will be nothing of value to the AF left. However, Huckelberry wants to use state money to buy private property within the base and when he won’t have enough, he will raid the county funds to buy the land and take it off the tax rolls. The land owners are paying taxes on the land now and Chuck just can’t stand to see any land that is producing revenue. The other thing the Huckster is doing is preparing to CYA when DM leaves. He can point that he bought vacant land and saved the AF 360K but cost the taxpayers in Pima County. He as a built in excuse to say “see, I tried to save DM but I couldn’t.” Just more BS from the Huckster’s mouth. He has not done one thing to save DM and its tax base and jobs. Thanks Huck and the COT. You did your job well.

  7. BillyB,

    Remember that DM doesn’t own the Barry Goldwater bombing range out near Gila Bend, that range is managed by Luke AFB. So DM doesn’t even have that to offer anyone in terms of anything they own. And the A-10s are the only thing owned by the 355th Wing, the host Wing at DM. All the other aircraft you see at DM are only based there, but owned by another Wing at another base; GSUs, or Geographically Separated Units: The EC-130H Compass Call electronic jamming planes are owned by the 55th Wing at Offut AFB, Nebraska. The HC-130 aerial refueling planes and the active-duty HH-60 helicopters are owned by the 23rd Wing at Moody AFB, Georgia. The reserve A-10 squadron at DM is owned by the 442nd Wing at Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and the reserve HH-60 squadron is owned by the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick AFB, Florida. Only one active and one training squadron of A-10s is actually owned by DM. Everyone else is a tenant. Besides the boneyard, which is its own command and has doesn’t come under the DM leadership of the 355, the base itself owns very little.

  8. BillyB, units training at DM only occurs about 30% of the year, they don’t buy homes or pay property taxes. I believe there is time, people should flood the local, state, and national politicians to get a clue and get engaged!

  9. JDFAST – we don’t have to wait till 2017 DMAFB closing its doors now – with the end of the A-10 ; what is interesting is the recent invitation of multiple other units and aircraft types to DM for bombing and flight training exercises of all types – could that become a new mission for ‘the base’ – perhaps – inviting all different armed forces – as well as nations to Tucson – come bomb our ranges – fly our skies like no others… that will be interesting to watch. Aviation weekly’s recent article said the AF is complaining that the A-10 is a ‘single mission aircraft’ as it’s biggest compliant. OK – but until we have a flying replacement there is not that capability – F35 has lots of issues remaining – engines that catch fire, placing flight limits on it, a maint. system of devices that are not yet operational – the heads up helmet for the pilot is still full of bugs at best.. the list goes on and on – even the testing of the device is being cut short to try and get back on some schedule so they’ll be flying and unfinished aircraft when they do declare the first wing operational. Its a problem in a box that they have not fixed at any price. But they did fix the A-10s

  10. The solution is simple; send in to Iraq & Syria to fight ISIS the Air Force and Pentagon Brass who want to ditch the A-10 Warthog.

  11. And the point of the article today is to reinforce that the AF brass is going to ditch the A10 as soon as possible. They want to fight the next war at the edge of space with bright shiny birds that go fast and cost billions per model. They could care less about the boots on the ground and that has been obvious from the very beginning. As I have posted before, the decision has been made and the only thing standing in the way is how long the AF will take to phase out the entire A10 fleet. Nine have already been put in “ready” reserve at DM and those ground crews shipped off the be maintenance personnel on the F35 that isn’t even in service and the AF is taking every short cut that they possibly can to get it in service. If you will remember last summer they weren’t even sure that they could fly an F35 to the Paris air show…. This area is preparing to take a financial hit like you have never seen. Courtesy of Pima County and the COT who have never shown any interest in DM except tax money. Well my guess is that after 20017 you won’t have to worry too mouch about DM. It will be in the process of closing…

Comments are closed.