Apparently there was some confusion over when the A-10 divestiture would actually start, given SECDEF Carter’s declaration the aircraft would be in service until 2022. That is a true statement in context, but when you break it down, it means the last of the A-10s will retire in 2022. The draw-down is going to start happening sooner–much sooner, in fact. According to U.S. Air Force officials, it will begin in FY 2018. And by General Welsh’s admission, they know exactly what they’re losing: CAS capacity.
Amid some confusion over when the Air Force will retire the A-10 attack plane, top service officials [recently] clarified the plan to start drawing down Warthog squadrons in fiscal 2018.
Comments from Defense Secretary Ash Carter in early February seemed to indicate the Air Force would postpone the divestiture of the A-10 until fiscal 2022. In a speech previewing the budget release, Carter noted commanders’ demand for the A-10 and other fourth-generation aircraft in the fight against the Islamic State.
“The budget defers the A-10’s [divestiture] until 2022, replacing it with F-35s on a squadron-by-squadron basis so we’ll always have enough aircraft for today’s conflict,” Carter said Feb. 2.
However, the Air Force will actually begin sunsetting the beloved attack plane in FY18, divesting two A-10 squadrons, or 49 planes, that year, a service spokeswoman confirmed March 17. The service will retire 49 aircraft in FY19, 64 in FY20, and 96 in FY21.
The decision to retire the A-10 beginning in FY18 was purely budget-driven, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in response to questions from Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., during a March 16 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. The multirole F-35 has been billed as an across-the-board replacement for all of the Air Force’s legacy fighter jets, but the F-35 cannot match the A-10 as a single-mission close-air support (CAS) platform, officials have said.
“The F-35 is intended to the high-threat CAS platform,” Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said during the hearing. “We are losing CAS capacity, that’s what the Budget Control Act has done to us.”