December 13, 2013
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said Friday that he expects a spirited debate over the possibility of eliminating the service’s fleet of aging A-10 Warthogs but said the move would be required to contend with the tightened budget environment.
The Air Force weighs eliminating the A-10 Warthog.
Photo: Air Force.
Welsh played down the notion that getting rid of the A-10s would significantly diminish the Air Force’s ability to provide close air support for ground troops–the primary role of the aircraft. He said other planes like the F-15, F-16, B-1 and B-52 already perform about 75 percent of the mission.
“We have a lot of airplanes that can perform that mission and perform it well,” Welsh told reporters at a press conference Friday. “We can do it with other aircraft.”
The Air Force must eliminate $12 billion in spending each year under prevailing budget conditions that include spending reductions and the sequester, which gets some relief from the recent budget deal under consideration in Congress. Welsh predicted eliminating the A-10s would save about $3.7 billion in maintenance and other support costs.
Even though years away, Welsh said the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will play a key role in close ground support.
The potential elimination of the A-10s has drawn some strong resistance on Capitol Hill. Language was added to the defense authorization bill that cleared the House of Representatives on Thursday to effectively block funding for retiring A-10s in fiscal 2014. The Senate is expected to vote on the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act next week.
Welsh said he was not concerned about the language because the Air Force plan would begin deactivation of A-10s starting in 2015.
“I don’t think the language has a major impact on the discussion we’re having right now,” he said, adding that the debate needs to take its course.
“This is a debate that needs to play out,” he said. ‘It’s a fair discussion, a debate that we will have inside the department, with the Hill and I’m sure with the White House to some extent.”
“And it wouldn’t be just about the A-10,” he added. “It will be about a number of things we are going to have to take out of our budget in order to meet the requirements of the law.”
“It’s going to be an entertaining time period,” he said.