BRRRRRTTTTT – that is the sound of A-10s shooting down the myth that the Air Force is prepared to sustain it indefinitely. Just last week, the headlines read that the venerable Warthog was not at risk of Air Force mismanagement and destined for the scrap pile.
Air Force Materiel Command Chief Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski announced that the USAF had resources to perpetually maintain and repair the aircraft. “They have re-geared up, we’ve turned on the depot line, we’re building it back up in capacity and supply chain,” Pawlikowski told Aviation Week. “Our command, anyway, is approaching this as another airplane that we are sustaining indefinitely.”
In an interview on the James T. Harris radio show late last week, Lt. Colonel (retired) Tom “Chuck” Norris said that while Pawlikowski words sound like a victory for Hog fans, they are not completely accurate. [Listen to the interview here]
It was on Harris’ show that the public first learned of the USAF’s plans to scrap the A-10. The hapless Sen. Jeff Flake dropped the bomb that the A-10 would be gone in an appearance on Harris’ show in August 2013. That news shook Tucson, home of Davis Monthan Air Force base which proudly hosts A-10s, and reverberated across the country.
A full-fledged war was then waged to save the aircraft by Warthog supporters. Pawlikowski’s words were welcome to those weary from that battle. however Norris, one of the leaders in that battle, warned Harris’ listeners that the fight is not over.
Norris said Pawlikowski’s announcement raises new questions and answers old ones. Pawlikowski is responsible for the sustainment of the A-10 fleet and all the aircraft in the Air Force inventory. “Each location takes care of different aircraft and the A-10 is taken care of at Hill Air Force Base in Salt Lake City,” said Norris. “They have re-geared up. They have turned back on the depot line. Over the last three years our civilian oversight has said you are not getting rid of the fleet. So my question is: who gave this organization the approval to reduce the depot line? To eliminate supply contracts for parts? Who gave them permission to do that?”
“They have admitted they broke the law,” stated Norris. “What she doesn’t mention is that because of all these cuts they’ve been doing for years, they are 27 aircraft behind in their depot maintenance line. And they have no plans to get caught up. So every eight years a plane goes to this depot facility for major maintenance. Paint, corrosion control, to make sure that the plane is air worthy for the next eight years. So they have no plan, no funding in place right now to even come up and make up these air craft with shortfalls. The best case scenario is that we will just tread water, we will never get back to the full healthy fleet that we had before the Air Force started this back door divestment.”
“To our knowledge and to the best of our sources they are still scrapping aircraft despite congressional delegation visits. Despite congressional inquiries,” said Norris of operations at the aircraft “boneyard” located at Davis Monthan. “Under the auspices that we need space. It is hundreds of square miles, and they are saying they don’t have space, yet they have aircraft out there that are from Vietnam and Korea; vintage planes that are no longer in the fleet that they are not scrapping. In my opinion there is no other conclusion that this is being done on purpose. They have different statuses of aircraft, type 1, 2 and 4,000 status. The ones that are being scrapped are in type 4,000 status. Type 2 are the ones that have good parts available. Type 1 are the ones they can bring back into full flying status within six months. To my knowledge via Congress they have 18 of those type 1,000’s sitting out there and I don’t remember the current number of the others. There is no way that anybody can look out there across this huge expanse and think that they need this space especially when they have a ton of open space as it is and the other space is taken up by planes that are no longer flying.”
Norris, who did not initially support Congresswoman Martha McSally, urged Harris’ voters to support her. McSally had been slow to the fight, but once she began, she fought tirelessly. “The prime players that have been fighting for the aircraft from the Hill’s point of view would be Senator McCain and Martha McSally. I know there are some listeners that don’t like Senator McCain, but I guarantee you that the airplane would have been long gone without his efforts. I watched him personally behind the scenes and the amount of influence that he has on the Senate Armed Services Committee to establish hearings. There is a tremendous amount of influence that only someone with his level of expertise, experience and background can provide to this fight,” said Norris of the highly unpopular McCain.
“I am telling you again that the Air Force believes that it is above the law,” said Norris forcefully. “It believes that it does not have to answer to the people. The people have spoken. For the last 3 years our representative and senators in this state and others have spoken loud and clear of what they expect the Air Force to do. I know this is probably going to sound sarcastic but the Air Force says disregard it; the will of the people.”