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Air Force Placing 18 A-10s into Backup Status

Thunderbolts for Lightnings

The Air Force is taking 18 primary, combat-coded A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from active units and placing them into Backup Aircraft Inventory (BAI) status, according to a press release from the office of the Secretary of the Air Force. The action has been authorized by the Secretary of Defense and congress, and is another step in the controversial Air Force move to retire A-10s, known more commonly as Warthogs, in order to free up funding for new aircraft and maintenance personnel to keep them operational.

“At this time the Air Force is moving into BAI status only 18 A-10s of the 36 authorized in Sec 133 of the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James. “While we are authorized by Congress to put 36 aircraft into BAI status, doing that now would require taking down an entire squadron. Out of respect for the intent of Congress, we’re placing 18 aircraft in BAI status.”

The iconic A-10, which was developed as a tank-killer in the 1970s but became a beloved and invaluable close support aircraft for ground troops in the conflicts of the last decade, has been at the center of a sometimes heated controversy about its retirement to essentially make way for the F-35A Lightning II.

Another 18 Warthogs may yet be placed into BAI status later in fiscal year 2015, the release continued. The A-10s in BAI will serve as replacements for others in the active fleet that become unserviceable. Nine of the Thunderbolts to be placed into BAI are assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, six to Moody AFB, Georgia, and three to Nellis AFB, Nevada. The iconic A-10, which was developed as a tank-killer in the 1970s but became a beloved and invaluable close support aircraft for ground troops in the conflicts of the last decade, has been at the center of a sometimes heated controversy about its retirement to essentially make way for the F-35A Lightning II.

A-10 Angel Thunder

An A-10 flown by the 107th Fighter Squadron from Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., down low during the 2014 Angel Thunder exercise at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, May 2, 2014. U.S. Air National Guard photo by MSgt. David Kujawa

“The secretary of Defense has certified that placing up to 36 A-10 aircraft into backup flying status is a necessary step to reduce the Air Force’s shortage of experienced fighter maintenance personnel,” James said in the release.

“We will revisit this action as the year progresses to assess the need to put the additional 18 aircraft into BAI status,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III. “This action represents the difficult choices required to balance between maintaining the capacity to meet current operational requirements and the resource investment required to keep our modernization efforts on schedule.”

The release went on to warn that the transfer of the A-10s to BAI was “far from sufficient to counter current maintenance manning and experience shortfalls.”

The Air Force plans to put the A-10s into back-up status in order to free up a “limited supply of experienced fighter maintenance personnel … constraining legacy fleet readiness and the standup of F-35A squadrons,” according to the release, which cited recommendations from a Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) study. The release went on to warn that the transfer of the A-10s to BAI was “far from sufficient to counter current maintenance manning and experience shortfalls.”

First F-35 Luke

The first F-35A to arrive at Luke Air Force Base. Luke AFB will train U.S. Air Force pilots and international pilots destined for deployment to combat units around the world. Lockheed Martin image

In a related move, the Air Force will accelerate the transition to the F-35 by the early conversion of the 4th Fighter Squadron, one of two squadrons flying F-16s at Hill AFB, Utah, to the F-35. Because “prohibitions on retiring A-10s prevent the Air Force from retraining enough maintainers to add an F-35 unit there, at this time,” the early transition will allow the Air Force to retain the squadron’s maintenance personnel to support the F-35 reaching initial operational capability in August of 2016. The release also stated that the Air Force will use contractors for some maintenance functions at Luke AFB, Arizona, as well as “investigating opportunities to capitalize on Total Force opportunities with its National Guard and Reserve components.”

“Although these decisions will have some impact on our legacy aircraft readiness, putting A-10s into BAI status, transitioning a squadron early at Hill AFB, and contracting some F-35 maintenance functions at Luke AFB helps ensure enough Air Force maintainers are trained and in place to support the F-35 at initial operational capability and beyond,” said James.