Once again the United States Air Force is holding the A-10 hostage as part of its annual congressional budget negotiations. This time around, former Air Force Secretary Deborah James has a personal interest in killing the low-flying-life-saving Warthog.
The United States Air Force (USAF) is now claiming that it does not have the money to replace the wings on 110 Warthogs forcing approximately 40 aircraft to be grounded by 2021 if more money is not made available, according to a CNN report.
For decades, the A-10 stood as the aircraft the troops on the ground wanted and the Air Force wanted to destroy. James continued the destructive tradition during her tenure. James also repeated the tired line that the money was simply not available to save the A-10.
Only a handful of elected representatives understood the Air Force’s game. Senators John McCain, and Kelly Ayotte, and Representative Martha McSally, a former A-10 pilot stood as the leaders of the Capitol Hill ground troops that saved the aircraft from the likes of James for the past few years.
Ayotte lost her re-election bid, and both McSally and McCain seem to have lost focus, according to former A-10 pilot Lt. Colonel Tom Norris. This at a time when they are needed the most. This at a time when operatives like James are using their influence to push for more for lesser aircraft.
As does nearly everyone who vacates any military seat of power, James landed on a cushy spot in the defense industry. While her performance with the Obama administration was marked by A-10 scandals and severe leadership lapses, she had built enough influence to be a high-value target for Textron Inc.
In the company’s press release announcing James’ election to its Board of Directors dated June 1, Textron’s Chairman and CEO Scott Donnelly stated that James’s experience “will greatly benefit Textron.” You can bet it will.
So, what about James’ experience did Donnelly find compelling? Donnelly cited her “deep expertise” in things like “national security, government procurement.”
What is it that Textron wants the USAF to procure? According to an article in Business Insider, “Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said the Air Force is looking to programs such as Textron’s Scorpion to potentially provide an inexpensive fighter capable of performing close-air support missions.”
Is it as capable as the A-10? That would be a no, according to experts. Is it as inexpensive as putting new wings on the 110 A-10s? Again, that would be a no, according to experts. But it isn’t the A-10, and because of its decades old resentment of the A-10, the USAF can use the Scorpion to fatally sting the venerable Warthog.
The A-10 as hostage
It has never been about money; the USAF is awash in it. Its leadership simply chooses to spend it on an anything but the A-10.
In an interview on the James T. Harris radio show out of Tucson, home of Davis Monthan Air Force base, which hosts squadrons of A-10s, Norris said “no one should be surprised” by the “Air Force’s lack of action” when it comes to the A-10. “By April 2016, as released by former Senator Ayotte’s office, the Air Force clearly indicated to all members of Congress that they had no intention of extending the Boeing wing contract that was in place at that time.”
“Here is the problem. We have 110 A-10’s out there out of a fleet of 283 that have old wings and like every old aircraft, including the F-16 and F-15 C and D, all those old aircraft require periodic maintenance. It is time to pay the piper. So lack of action on the Air Force, again we’ve known about this for a year and a half, it is happening before our eyes,” explained Norris.
“Let us talk some specifics,” said Norris. “Within the Air Force’s budget, they are palming or budgeting to do the same kind of repairs to 841 F-16’s. Yet what they are saying to you James is: ‘here is your household budget. We are not going to fix the A-10, you’ve got to give us more money over our normal budget in order for us to maintain the A-10 fleet. Coupled with, we have this new science experiment which is being supported by multiple members on Congress, including John McCain, that is called the Light Attack Experiment. He is all for fielding 300 of these light attack aircraft that are much less capable than the A-10 at the cost of twenty million dollars apiece and we don’t have the money to keep the A-10 fleet intact.’ It is not adding up. There are serious politics in play here.”
“They are showing once again that their priority is not our troops on the ground,” said Norris. “They have directly prioritized other ventures rather than protecting those troops by the function of budgeting… Three hundred repairs on the F-16 and zero on the A-10? Their actions speak very clearly.”
To be clear
“I want to be clear about the Light Attack Support by Senator McCain,” stated Norris. “This is an idea to field very inexpensive, very low capability airframes. His contention is to keep the A-10 and add these light attack airplanes to the fleet. That is a good idea in theory. However the Air Force as a function of the recent announcement, they’ve finally come clean. The real strategy is to field the light attack airplanes and let the A-10 go into the boneyards and say they can do the missions with light attack airplanes.”
“What is amazing is that when you consider all the effort that the Air Force has done, the A-10 is still the most mission capable,” marveled Norris, “and I will say fully mission capable meaning it is ready for combat operations, of any legacy aircraft in the Air Force. Think about that for a minute. Despite their effort to eliminate part contracts. Despite the effort to send a bulk of our maintainers to other airframes, the airframe is so simple and easy to work on that we can still maintain a mission capable rig that is greater than the F-16 and F-15 C and D.”
As for Martha McSally? According to Norris, McSally and her staff deserves credit for “amazing work to date. They have tried to help with the wings. Been a big advocate in the House. They have made the right connections to make a difference. I do find it troubling in the latest series of articles where she seems to accept the fact that it is going to be difficult to save the airplanes they are trying to cut. That to me is like she may be trying to normalize that Tucson is going to get affected and the fleet is going to get smaller. I would take the other approach. We go on the attack. We come up with a strategy. We bring in brothers from all over the nation to come to the Hill to say this airplane is too important to lose. This light attack experiment, this joke is not going to save lives.”
Harris asked Norris, “Where is McCain now?” “To be honest I haven’t heard from him. His military legislative assistant Drew has been non-responsive to any of our requests to push and pull information to and from him,” responded Norris. “I’m very disappointed in the response from that office. I know that Senator McCain supports our troops. I’ve seen it. I know it happens. What I think it is, it’s poor communication among his staff. I know you are out there Drew, it is not acceptable. You know the truth now. The Air Force has come clean.”
“So they are talking about closing down three squadrons and divesting 110 aircraft over time,” said Norris. “So there are two things in play here. The best case scenario is that one squadron of A-10’s closes. Worst case is two. There are only three squadrons total. Davis Monthan is on the target list. What we are hearing is that at least one of these squadrons is going away. So a few thousand jobs.”
Sources advise that at least 1 A-10 squadron at Davis-Monthan will be gone shortly and so will the jobs.
McSally, who is known as McCain’s pawn and not a team player, represents the Congressional District in which Davis Monthan is situated. She came to the A-10 fight late; only after the aircraft’s popularity was unmistakable.
Harris asked Norris how McSally could be aware of the situation and “not push back again?”
“The battlefield that she operates in, what I’ve learned in my limited experience compared to her,” said Norris, “is that it is a team effort. Nobody can just say to the President that this is their favorite plane and you need to save it.”
“I guarantee you that if the President sat down with one or two of our JTECH brothers and they told their stories, he’d be sold,” said the experienced veteran, whose call name was “Tom Chuck,” as in reference to Chuck Norris. “It is a story that wins because it saves lives and influences the entire U.S.; sons, fathers, mothers, nieces, daughters. It is the right fight, a worthy cause and it is worth it. But you just can’t do it alone. Because you have to get it through authorizations and appropriations.”
“I feel sorry for McCain because he wants to believe that what the Air Force is telling him is truthful. In all these incidents where they have blatantly lied to him, you would think he wouldn’t trust them at all,” concluded Norris. “I think his heart is in the right spot but there is no way that the Air Force is going to follow through with that. They are going to try and replace the A-10 with an aircraft that is not nearly as capable.”