A-10 Divestiture: What are the Real Facts?

Despite the fact that law requires the Air Force to maintain an operational A-10 fleet over this fiscal year, it appears as though the Air Force isn’t playing by the rules.

Last week, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., sent a letter to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James telling of their frustration with reports that the Air Force has not allotted any flying hours or modernization funding for the A-10.

The fiscal year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits the service from obligating or expending funds to make “significant changes to manning levels with respect to covered aircraft [the A-10] to retire, prepare to retire, or place in storage” prior to Dec. 31.

The A-10 issue is getting plenty of attention on Capitol Hill, even during the Army posture hearings. Impressively members of Congress have addressed the A-10 in every hearing thus far.

Today, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., led a group of lawmakers and A-10 pilots and maintainers through a press conference pushing for retention of the A-10 until a replacement is available (see story here). Lawmakers stressed what NGAUS finds to be a critical point in the A-10 debate, the capability gap. The A-10 is projected to be fully retired by 2019, whereas the F-35, the primary replacement for the A-10, will not be operationally online before 2021. As Senator Ayotte said, "we cannot afford that [capability] gap for those in uniform."

The press conference followed a recent op-ed from Ayotte, Chambliss and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

They wrote, “the A-10 is the most cost efficient CAS aircraft in the Air Force inventory…In a world that is more unstable and less predictable, the proposal to eliminate the A-10 before an adequate replacement achieves full operational capability is dangerously short-sighted.”

Another facet of the A-10 debate has not been addressed adequately. That’s the cost savings numbers touted by the Air Force.

When Congress caught wind of the original plan to divest the A-10s last year, it questioned the analysis. Initially, the Air Force said the divestiture of the A-10 would save around $3.2 billion over five years.

In a written response to questions during her nomination hearing in September, Air Force Secretary James said the figure was $3.5 billion. But last month, Maj. Gen. James Jones, the deputy chief of staff for Air Force operations, plans and requirements, publically stated a $3.7 billion dollars svaings plus an additional $500 million in cost avoidance. Later reports even cited Gen. Jones claiming a $4.2 billion in savings.

So what are the real numbers?

During a House Armed Services Committee hearing, Gen. Mark A. Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff,  told members, “To achieve the same saving would require a much higher number of either F-16s or F-15Es, but we also looked at those options…We ran a detailed operational analysis comparing divestiture of the A-10 fleet to divestiture of the B-1 fleet, reducing the F-16 fleet, deferring procurement of a number of  F-35s or decreasing readiness further by standing down a number of fighter squadrons.”

In this author’s opinion, the ‘facts’ don’t really add up. Even in today's press conference, Senator Ayotte said that the other options put forward by the Air Force are "dramatic senarios."

The A-10 divestiture decision was made last year, long before the “analysis” was done, as illustrated by the moving numbers over the past few months. If the Air Force had in fact run the numbers extensively, one would assume they would remain consistent.  

So significant questions remain. What are the real savings, and was the decision really based on them?

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