On Wednesday, Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh, the service’s chief of staff, stated that the decision to divest the A-10 Warthog has to be about concerns for a modern, future force, and in that decision, emotion can play no role.
This is how Welsh described the arguments used by A-10 advocates. “We have not lost thousands of airmen over the last eight years in the 80 percent of CAS missions where the A-10 didn’t show up. So that emotion argument is simply not true,” Welsh stated to reporters Wednesday, according to National Defense Magazine.
“As emotional as we want this argument to get, we clearly can do the close-air support mission in a low threat environment with other airplanes,” Welsh added.
Other aircraft — at least in low-threat environments — can fill in the gaps on the close-air support mission, Welsh argued, pointing to the need to fund platforms like the F-35 and divest all 164 A-10s by 2019.
Otherwise, if servicemembers and lawmakers in Congress are successful in their fight to keep the A-10 around, the Air Force will have to come up with an additional $4 billion dollars over the next five years to keep the program running. Welsh doesn’t think that money is forthcoming, mostly because the $90 billion dollars slotted in the Overseas Contingency Operations fund by House Republicans still isn’t enough to cover the A-10.
Welsh reportedly mentioned Russia and China as key reasons the Air Force needs to prioritize modernization, adding that the Air Force cannot “keep hanging on to everything.”
However, sources told The Washington Examiner Wednesday that Congress is likely to move to protect the A-10 from divestment as the defense budget continues through the legislative process this month.
While Congress was able to fight off direct divestment last year, lawmakers caved on a crucial provision which allowed the Air Force to place up to 36 A-10s into “backup status” this year. So far, 18 A-10s have been moved to backup status. According to Air Force Secretary Deborah James, the reason all 36 A-10s weren’t sidelined right away was out of respect for Congress.
Republican Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona thinks that the House Armed Services Committee will address the Air Force’s backup status plan shortly, as she maintains it’s a “backdoor” method which erodes national security. (RELATED: Republicans And Democrats Agree: The A-10 Needs To Stay)
For Welsh, “it’s hard to keep emotion out” of the argument, and although he has “always loved the A-10,” his main point was that it’s finally time to move on to other aircraft.
It seems that at the moment, the Air Force is willing to keep the A-10 around, so long as there isn’t a shortfall in funding, but since officials have cited other concerns, like freeing up maintenance crews to work on the F-35 instead of the A-10, whether additional funds will in the end be sufficient to save the A-10 remains to be seen.
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