Welsh: A-10 Warthog Retirement Cannot Be an ‘Emotional’ Issue
When it comes to divesting the A-10 Warthog — a close-air support aircraft — the decision must be based on modernizing the fleet for the future and not on emotion, said the Air Force’s chief of staff April 8.
“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,” said Gen. Mark A. Welsh during a meeting with defense reporters in Washington, D.C.
Air Force leaders have pushed to retire the service’s fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt II attack planes but has faced a backlash from passionate service members and lawmakers.
The Air Force is seeking to divest all 164 A-10s by 2019. The service wants to shift money from the 40-year-old planes and put the funding toward new platforms such as its next-generation joint strike fighter, which has become known for its increasingly expensive price tag.
The service will need to divest the planes in order to modernize for future conflicts, Welsh said.
“I’m worried about close-air support as a mission 10 years, 20 years, 50 years from now because we are going to be doing it, and the A-10 is not going to be what’s going in,” Welsh said. “How do we transition to the future? How do we modernize for the future threat? What’s going to do our close-air support in a high threat environment, because that’s not the A-10.”
If the Air Force is unsuccessful in divesting the aircraft, it will need to find $4 billion over the next five years to pay for it, Welsh noted.
“That comes out of something. It comes out of some our other mission areas. And if you go talk to the combatant commanders, who provide our requirement ... when they give us our requirements listing, nowhere on the list is keeping the A-10 versus a lot of other stuff,” he said.
Welsh — who at one time flew the aircraft — said he loved the A-10 and that no one in the service wants to get rid of it, but it is necessary because of fiscal restraints.
“Would we like to keep it all? Oh golly, yes,” he said. But “we don’t have the resources to do it and that’s a Budget Control Act issue. That’s not an Air Force issue.”
Welsh noted that the aircraft has performed well in Iraq and Syria in the fight against the Islamic State, but there are other aircraft that can do the job. He pushed back against assertions that airmen would be killed or injured if the A-10 wasn’t used in close-air support missions.
“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,” he said.
Even if the House Republicans' plan to insert $90 billion of overseas contingency operations funds to the Defense Department’s fiscal year 2016 budget comes to bear, that will not be enough to justify the A-10.
“The problem with OCO as a solution is that you can’t invest in modernization programs because it’s one-year money. I’m hoping and I’m confident that Congress is looking hard at how do you mechanize this money, what authorizations does the department get for use of this money that are different than standard OCO authorizations. Because if we don’t, then this is [a] short-term fix for whatever we do with it,” he said.
The Air Force cannot “keep hanging on to everything,” he said. It must invest wisely in future platforms and in modernization efforts, otherwise the gap between the United States’ military capability and its adversaries’ will close.
“That’s what we’re worried about,” he said.
He noted that Russia and China are both investing heavily in military equipment at a rapidly increasing pace. The Air Force must be able to respond to that and keep its technological edge.