The Air Force’s latest plan would retire 42 A-10s next year, 35 of which are at Davis-Monthan AFB. In turn, the Air Force would send all of the A-10s (and HH-60s) currently based at Nellis AFB to Davis-Monthan AFB to (somewhat) replace them. This would be the first phase of the proposed 63-aircraft retirement plan.
As part of this horse trade, the Air Force plans to anoint Davis-Monthan as a Close Air Support (CAS) Center of Excellence. In return for losing its A-10 and HH-60 iron, Nellis makes room for new mission growth.
We’ve lost track of how many variations of the Retire the A-10 Game Plan have been tried over the last decade. It’s too easy to pick apart the divestment nuances - it’s also pretty pointless.
At the end of the day, some A-10s will need to be retired to make room for all those extra F-35s Congress has been giving the Air Force the past few years.
Those extra F-35s may have been bought 1-3 years ago, but they are rolling off the line today and require operator and maintenance manpower, as well as sustainment dollars…which was allocated from the A-10 (and F-16) fleet drawdowns.
The politically sacred number of 1,763 F-35As in the Air Force procurement plan is based on the F-35A replacing all A-10s and F-16s. If those assumptions change…so should the number.
Instead of programmatics, pay attention to the consolidation side of the story: The rationale of slapping a "CAS Center of Excellence" bumper sticker on Davis-Monthan.
We know what you’re thinking: WTF is a
Center of Excellence
anyway? The military has no definition or criteria, but in the business sector it's generally described as a focused group of diverse people that are formed to develop and proliferate best practices to address a skills/knowledge deficit within an organization. And that is the problem.
It’s one thing to be trepid about losing a ton of experience and lessons learned as the military winds down the Middle East operations after a generation when almost everything with wings was doing CAS.
But it’s unclear why now is the time for the Air Force to declare it has a knowledge deficit or skills proliferation issue that a
Center of Excellence
exists to solve.
More importantly, a Center of Excellence that is solely comprised of A-10s is the exact opposite of the diversity that is the strength of a Center of Excellence…and it unwinds years of Air Force “CAS is a mission, not a platform” talking points.
Remember in 2018 when the 24th Tactical Air Support Squadron was activated to reinforce the commitment to CAS...with F-16s? No one thought establishing a unit to specialize in a mission 17 years after the Air Force needed it was a good idea.
Apparently, neither did the Air Force; it was
eight months ago.
The A-10 is the most emotionally-connected piece of iron in the Air Force because it exists to conduct one of the most emotionally-charged missions in the military. It’s not about the horse…unless you make it about the horse.
It will be interesting to see how the Air Force manages the mission vs. platform narrative it has essentially dug up from the grave, and how it carefully navigates the age-old debate between mission generalization and specialization ideologies in the process.