Next Defense Secretary Open to Keeping A-10 in Air Force

Defense Secretary nominee Ashton Carter agreed Wednesday to hear arguments from Joint Tactical Air Controllers (JTACS) for keeping the A-10 despite renewed efforts by the Air Force to retire the Thunderbolt.

At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carter told A-10 advocate Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., that he had read letters in support of the A-10 from the Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) Association.

The TACP Association represents about 3,300 active and retired JTACs who had the mission of moving forward with ground troops to select targets and call in airstrikes.

Carter made no commitments on the A-10, but when asked by Ayotte if he would speak with representatives of the TACP, he said: “Absolutely, I will.”

Active-duty members of the TACP have been told not to offer opinions on the A-10, but the retired members have unanimously supported keeping the Thunderbolt, affectionately known as the Warthog in the fleet, Ayotte said.

She said that the TACP members agree that the F-16, the F-15 and the B-1 bomber “cannot replicate the capabilities of the A-10” in performing the close-air support mission for ground troops.

The Air Force last year sought to begin retiring the A-10s to clear the way for replacing them with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter but Congress voted for additional funding to keep the A-10s in the fleet through fiscal year 2015.

In its budget proposal for fiscal year 2016, the Air Force stated its intention to begin retiring the A-10 in FY 2016 “to focus available funding on more urgent combatant commander requirements.”

Under the Air Force plan, about 164 A-10s would be retired in 2016 but “the A-10 will remain operational and available for deployment until 2019.” The Air Force said the plan would save an estimated $3.5 billion over five years.

At an Air Force briefing last month, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, a former A-10 pilot, said “It’s not about not liking or not wanting the A-10. It’s about some very tough decisions that we have to make to recapitalize an Air Force for the threat 10 years from now.”