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Guard Wing to Swap Fighters for Cyber

03-12-24 WR A-10s WEBSITE
03-12-24 WR A-10s WEBSITE
Washington Report

The Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Wing will swap the unit’s fighter mission for an expanded cyber mission, the Air Force announced March 7.

The decision leaves the wing’s 104th Fighter Squadron without a replacement for its A-10 Thunderbolt II fighters after 45 years flying the airframe.

"Replacing the aging A-10 Thunderbolt IIs at the 175th Fighter Wing with a cyber mission will create a natural synergy between cyber assets at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, and the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group already operating out of Warfield ANGB," the Air Force said in a press release, referencing Warfield Air National Guard Base in Middle River, Maryland.

The cyber mission aligns the Maryland Air Guard more closely with the National Defense Strategy, the Air Force continued.

Warfield isn’t precluded from being considered for other missions in the future, the service added.

Divestment of the 175th WG’s 21 Warthogs is now expected to start this fall after a prolonged battle over the unit’s future.

While manpower numbers are expected to remain neutral, the Air Force added they will be finalized over the next year.

NGAUS considers recapitalizing the Air Guard’s fighter fleet a legislative priority as the service phases out older airframes like the A-10. The Air Guard currently has 25 fighter squadrons.

Retired Maj. Gen. Francis M. McGinn, the NGAUS president, said March 8 that the Air Force’s move regarding Maryland’s A-10s "squanders some of the U.S. military’s most experienced pilots and maintainers at a time when such talent is in short supply."

"This decision makes no sense in this era of Great Power Competition," he said.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said March 7 that he was "disappointed" by the change, but added he would keep working with the White House and Pentagon on a fighter mission in his state.

Maj. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead, the adjutant general of Maryland, said March 8 that Maryland is now "the only state without a flying mission."

Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., pledged March 7 that they would "ensure a follow-on flying mission for our Air Guardsmen."

The Maryland Guard has flown A-10s since 1979.

The 175th WG has more than 60,000 hours of combined flying experience and 12,000 hours of combat flying experience, Moore noted.

The wing’s A-10s will deploy to the Middle East later this month, he added, where they will support U.S. Central Command’s theater of operations.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told Congress in May 2023 that he would try replacing the A-10 with a flying mission when retiring the aircraft.

The Air Force is gradually divesting its entire A-10 fleet nationwide, with the change expected to impact other Guard wings after the 175th WG.

The Idaho Guard’s 124th Fighter Wing and the Michigan Guard’s 127th Wing also fly the close-air support aircraft.

The Idaho unit will transition to the F-16 Fighting Falcon in 2027, the Air Force said last year. The Air Force has yet to announce a follow-on fighter mission for the Michigan wing.

— By Mark Hensch