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3/17/14: I added some new information and corrected a couple of errors. Scroll to the bottom for the update.

The end of the road, that is, for the A-10. And the U-2.

Friends keep asking me what I think of the Pentagon's plan to retire the A-10. As I said in my comments to a previous diary, I don't see it as the end of the world. The Warthog was going to be gone by 2028 anyway. Under the latest five-year budget plan, it'll be gone by 2020. The USAF has to carve out money for the F-35, and it has to come from somewhere.

Here, finally, is a chart detailing the USAF's five-year plan. The chart shows, location by location and fiscal year by fiscal year, aircraft to be retired. The military fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30; when the chart references FY15, for example, that's the fiscal year that starts this October. If you look at Arizona, you'll see that the USAF plans to retire a total of 83 A-10s over a two-year period starting October 2014 and ending September 2016. That's the entire Davis-Monthan AFB fleet, gone by mid-2016.

FY15-adjustments

The wing at Davis-Monthan trains pilots to fly the A-10. The chart implies that the last trainees will graduate by September 2016; no new A-10 pilots will be trained after that date. Warthog squadrons at other bases in the USA and overseas will be gone even sooner, by September of next year: Moody AFB, Georgia; Boise ANGB, Idaho; Osan AB, South Korea. Air National Guard units in some states will keep their Warthogs a little longer: Michigan to September 2017, Missouri to September 2018, Indiana to September 2019. And that's it. Not quite all the way to FY2020, but close enough.

The U-2s at Beale AFB in California are slated to be gone by September 2016. With other scheduled cuts, 500 aircraft in all will be retired by FY2020. The Aviationist offers this summary:

Over the next 5 years, along with the about 340 A-10s and 33 U-2s, the “adjustment” will cut about 70 F-15Cs, 119 MQ-1 drones, 6 E-8 Joint Stars planes, 7 E-3 AWACS, and 7 EC-130 Compass Call aircraft; such aircraft will be partially replaced by some upgraded F-16s, made available as new F-35s replace them, and 36 MQ-9 Reaper drones, while all the remaining fleets will (more or less) be upgraded.
Focusing locally, the cuts at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson will be substantial. Up to now, as mentioned, DMAFB has been the USAF's A-10 schoolhouse. It's also home base to the EC-130 Compass Call. Both aircraft will be gone in two years.

What'll be left at Davis-Monthan? A small helicopter rescue unit, a few plain-vanilla C-130 transport aircraft, 12th Air Force headquarters (which oversees USAF operations and relations in Central & South America and the Caribbean), and the famous "Boneyard" (where all these soon-to-be retired aircraft will join those that went before them). Davis-Monthan lost the bid to be the training base for the F-35 (Luke AFB in Phoenix edged us out), and I'm afraid our base, a major employer in Tucson, will become a ghost town. I don't see it going away -- 12th Air Force and the Boneyard will keep it alive -- but it won't be the bustling center of activity it has been.

As for the F-35 and whether it'll be capable of fulfilling the A-10's close air support mission, please permit me a momentary deviation from the party line. You didn't think the USAF wanted to kill the A-10 just because it's ugly and slow, did you? No, it's because the USAF never wanted to fly close air support in the first place.

The fighter I flew, the F-15 Eagle, experienced a host of problems early on. It was over budget and overweight, plagued by systems that didn't work as advertised and a shortage of spare parts and engines. In some quarters it was considered a failure and many predicted its early demise. By 1978 we were well on our way to fixing all the problems, and from that point to today the F-15 has been a total success, not only the best air superiority fighter ever but the only fighter to date to achieve a perfect combat record, over a hundred kills and no losses. There's no doubt in my mind the F-35 will follow a similar curve, and that by 2020 it'll be a damn good fighter.

But the day the USAF willingly commits a squadron of F-35s to provide close air support to some Army general's ground troops will be the day rivers flow with whiskey and T-bone steaks grow on trees.

Update (3/17/14): Per this article in yesterday's Arizona Daily Star, I see that I was a bit too pessimistic about future USAF plans for Davis-Monthan AFB.

First of all, with regard to DMAFB's A-10s, I misread the chart above. It shows the removal of 55 A-10s over the course of the next two fiscal years. Those are the two active USAF A-10 squadrons, which will be gone by September 2016. But there is a third, an AF Reserve squadron with 28 assigned A-10s. That unit is scheduled to remain, with its A-10s, until FY19, when it will transition to F-16s. It is possible that the reserve unit will train small numbers of replacement A-10 pilots for ANG units around the US, one of which (in Indiana) will also remain until FY19. A few A-10s, then, will remain at DMAFB until some time between October 2018 and September 2019. By September 2019 at the latest, the reserve unit here will be flying F-16s.

I was also wrong about the complete closeout of EC-130 Compass Call operations at DMAFB. I thought there were only 7 or so aircraft, but in fact there are 15. So approximately half the fleet is retiring by September 2015, not the entire fleet.

The impact on DMAFB and Tucson will still be significant. Two-thirds of the current A-10 fleet will be gone in two years, and likely less than that. Half the EC-130s will be gone in one. In four years, the few remaining A-10s will be replaced with F-16s. I'm not aware of any USAF plans to base other aircraft at DM, at least for now. Compared to today, tomorrow's Davis-Monthan is going to feel like a ghost town.

Originally posted to Kossack Air Force on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 03:10 PM PDT.

Also republished by Baja Arizona Kossacks and Aviation & Pilots.

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Comment Preferences

  •  So what will really replace the A-10? (5+ / 0-)

    Some Navy plane?  Army choppers?

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 03:19:49 PM PDT

  •  Mmm, nope. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, RiveroftheWest, tarkangi
    There's no doubt in my mind the F-35 will follow a similar curve, and that by 2020 it'll be a damn good fighter.
    Nagannahappen.

    The F-15 was a good plane with growing pains. But it flew well from day one.

    The F-35 is a bad plane. Too fat, too thick, too sluggish, too underpowered, too expensive. And it doesn't matter how many tweaks they tack on it, it will remain that way for ever and ever after.

    There is no doubt in my mind the AF will commit to it, get it into service and make do with it while claiming all along it's the awesomest piece of awesome awesomeness since the invention of sliced buttermilk bread.

    But it will never be a good plane, and certainly not a good fighter.

    I deal in facts. My friends are few but fast.

    by Farugia on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 03:23:08 PM PDT

  •  The Marines (6+ / 0-)

    will take the A-10s.  There isn't another asset in the inventory that does what the warthog does.  

    •  Let's hope so. (6+ / 0-)

      Diarist is absolutely right that the AF wants nothing to do with close air support.  After all, the boots on the ground the A-10 supports are very rarely those of the AF ...

    •  No they won't (6+ / 0-)

      The Marines need a Harrier replacement, not an aging, orphaned piece of equipment that has to operate from a hard-surface runway, the Marines need their own organically-supplied close-air support that stays close to them, that doesnt need to fly from some distant base at the whim of some other service's commanders.

      If anyone's gonna make the F-35 work, it'll be the Marines, they NEED a VTOL fighter/bomber that's carrier-qualified and can be operated from a scraped-out clearing in a swamp, no A-10 can supply that requirement.

      The Marines theory of how they operate depends upon vertical take-off and landing fighters and transports that THEY OWN, they intend to be a highly mobile, self-supporting small force that can deploy anywhere and commence operations, the F-35 and the Osprey are the aviation part of the plan.

      (Geeze, don't we have any Gyrenes around here to explain this better?)

      "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

      by leftykook on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 04:44:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  A question: (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tarkangi, RiveroftheWest

      Is the A-10 tailhook adaptable, or can it be easily modified to be? Can the airframe withstand the repeated stresses of arrested landings?

      While my personal knowledge of Marine close air support doctrine is rather dated it seems to me that this is the key to whether or not the A-10 would be a good fit for the Corps.

      Driving yesterday afternoon I watched at least a half dozen A-10s approach D-M for landing, and thought how well suited they would be in the role once filled by A-4s and before that A-1s. If only they could be carrier based.

      War beats down, and sows with salt, the hearts and minds of soldiers." Brecht

      by DaNang65 on Sat Mar 15, 2014 at 08:11:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The back story here... (9+ / 0-)

    ....goes back to the inter-service rivalry between the Army and the Air Force, which led to a typical political hash of a solution from Washington.

    The Army and Air Force hadda pissing contest over who got to fly what, and the DOD managed to cut the baby in half while throwing out the bathwater, the Army was restricted to using helicopters for close-air support by Washington decree, so when they wanted a heavy-duty tank killer, they had to build the most magnificent, complicated and expensive choppers ever built, when what they needed was an A-10-like aircraft but which they weren't allowed to develop because of the "range war" settlement imposed by DOD.

    Meanwhile, the Air Force was handed the job of helping the Army deal with the threat of 10,000 T-72s pouring thru the Fulda Gap (which THEY really didn't want to do)...

    The net result was the A-10, a magnificent tank killer designed specifically to be stationed in West Germany, a place that has lots and lots of hard-surface runways, including lots of auxiallary fields painted on the Autobahns, all of which was very close to wherever the were required to be.

    It's very interesting to see how similar the A-10 and Apache Longbows are actually used, they both are used as if they were Extremely Fast Armor, they fly super-duper-extra-low, hiding behind terrain features and only exposing themselves long enough to pop up, riddle their target with bullets or missiles, then pop back down again "Next!"....It's almost like convergent evolution where completely different families of animals evolve members to fit a niche environment that are remarkably similar in spite of being entirely different.

    If the Army hadn't been barred from developing fixed-wing attack aircraft, they might have built their own A-10, which probably would have been made for operations from dirt fields with maintenance done from the back of a truck, and there might not be any such thing as an Apache Longbow.

    (My late father worked for Piper aircraft when he retired from the USMC, and shortly after goin to work for them, they showed him their plans for building a re-engined WWII fighter as a CAS-type aircraft. This was the early '60's, and there were still a number of old warbirds around, one project they were tinkering with was a P-51 rehash with a turbine engine to replace the Merlin, they went as far as joining in with some guys who were re-engining a couple of P-51s obtained from Bolivia, then the Range War Peace Treaty ended any more talk of fixed-wing Army Attack aircraft...)

    "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

    by leftykook on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 05:22:28 PM PDT

    •  One solution was the Cavalier Mustang.. (7+ / 0-)

      ...complete with the utterly reliable, 'can't kill it with a stick', Rolls-Royce Dart turboprop (I know, some of my family were busy testing that engine!)

      In 1968, Cavalier mated a Rolls-Royce Dart 510 turboprop to a Mustang II airframe. This privately funded prototype was also intended for the same CAS/COIN mission that the Mustang II was built for. The Turbo Mustang III had radically increased performance, along with an associated increase in payload and decrease in cost of maintenance due to the turbine engine. Despite numerous sales pitches to the United States Air Force, neither the U.S. military nor any foreign operators purchased the Turbo Mustang III. Seeking a company with mass production capability, the Turbo Mustang prototype, now called "The Enforcer," was sold by Lindsay to Piper Aircraft in 1971.[5]

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 06:37:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  O/T - (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, DaNang65

         pwoodford, please check out Open Thread ☛ HERE

    The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

    by Azazello on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 05:38:01 PM PDT

  •  Im still thinking that the days of manned aircraft (4+ / 0-)

    are approaching their end, and we'll see drones replacing most of the inventory.

    And just wait till the unmanned battle tanks start showing up.

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 06:22:51 PM PDT

  •  For perspective on the A-10, see Boyd (4+ / 0-)

    There's a lot in Boyd: the Fighter Pilot who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram on the A-10 program.

    The story that the Air Force did not and does not want to do close air support for the Army is rooted in several parts of Air Force culture. Partly it's history. The Air Force was part of the Army for decades, and the Fly Boys hated being under the thumb of ground-pounder generals who didn't understand or value what they could do. Further, the Air Force has always had the conviction that Strategic Air Power can obviate the need for boots on the ground - that's a focus that permeates the Air Force. Also, there's the fixation on higher, farther, faster - and nukes.

    The A-10 is subsonic, optimized for ground support. It's the antithesis of an Air Force driven by doctrines that call for control of battle field airspace and global reach.

    Boyd's acolytes in the Pentagon took an Air Force program to develop a close air support aircraft whose main goal was above all about keeping the Army from getting its own force, and instead used to analyze A) what a close air support aircraft needed to do, and B) how to go about doing it. The A-10 was the answer: maneuverable down and dirty, armed with the right mix of weapons, built to take a lot of damage and still get the pilot home.

    It's still all of those things - but the problem now is that it can't survive in a battle field because modern targeting systems can lock on it too easily (not stealthy enough) and it's not really built to be part of the electronic battle field of interlocking sensor and communications networks.

    The F-35 is supposed to be extremely low-obesrvable in all regards, and the electronics capabilities built into it are mind boggling - or will be if and when they get the software and hardware up to speed. F-35 haters don't fully appreciate the capabilities the plane is meant to have, or their implications for actual use.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 08:56:52 PM PDT

  •  As for the U-2 Dragon Lady, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, subtropolis, tarkangi

    Here's some remarks from the recent AFA Air Warfare Symposium.

    Friday February 21, 2014  Air Force Magazine

    Orlando, Fla.— The U-2 remains a high-demand asset in combatant commands around the world because of its flexibility and survivability, Lockheed Martin U-2 Director Melani Austin told reporters Thursday at AFA's Air Warfare Symposium here. Austin touted U-2 mission success rates, flexibility, and potency in anti-access, area-denial environments. Earlier this year, the U-2S fleet completed a 10-band, multispectral electro-optical-infrared sensor communications gateway, Austin said. In Fiscal 2013, the U-2S had a 97.6 percent mission success rate in US Central Command; a 97.3 percent success rate in US European Command; and in US Pacific Command a 95.7 percent success rate. In addition, the U-2 is modular, and has a host of sensor suites it can fly with, from the SYERS II (multispectral) sensor to the optical bar camera and a signals intelligence suite. It also is survivable in a denied environment, emphasized Austin. Global Hawks, on the other hand, can only carry one sensor at a time, she noted. "You don't always have access to [Global Positioning Systems] and satellites" in an A2/AD scenario, she noted, and this makes U-2S the only high-altitude system capable of accomplishing its mission in such a scenario.
    —Marc V. Schanz

    The U-2 is still a valuable asset - the question is whether it's valuable enough to justify the resources needed to keep it in the inventory. The answer appears to be "No."

    The BBC has a nifty article on what it's like to fly the U-2.

    How do you stay alert for 12 hours isolated in a tiny cockpit high above the planet?
    The aircraft flies on autopilot for most of the flight and that’s good because the margin at altitude is very narrow between the maximum Mach that the aircraft can fly before it breaks up and the stall speed. It’s about 10 knots.

    It’s also a handful to fly at altitude because the air is so thin – it’s like balancing a pencil on the tip of your finger. You really have to come back down to lower altitude before you can gain control back.

    emphasis added

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 09:09:23 PM PDT

  •  The F-35 is a piece of CRAP!!!! (0+ / 0-)

    The stupid thing is now coming in at close to $200 million per copy and is still not operational. Recently, they just found cracks in engine mounts that will further delay it. But fear not! A panel of "experts" has been called together to analyze this latest problem and no doubt there will be a solution--after another year or so of delay. It will probably mean adding weight to the plane thus affecting range and performance.

    Then there is the boondoggle of the two engines. The Air Force only wants one engine, but Congress in its bought-out wisdom has decreed that there be two from two different manufacturers in --ready?--two different congressional districts. The program over its lifetime looks to be stretching to over a trillion dollars--for a fighter that may just marginally meet design expectations and cost us through the nose. This program is simply obscene.

  •  Heh (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tarkangi, RiveroftheWest

    The Blue suiter next to me at war College actually wrote his thesis on "The B-2 in a close air support role".

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