It may be just as Arkansas’ Congressional Delegation suspected: The decision to strip the Fort Smith-based 188th Fighter Wing of its A-10 mission was primarily a factor of domestic geography and politics, instead of foreign geopolitics and unit performance.
A Tuesday (Jan. 15) post on airforce-magazine.com, the online journal of the Air Force Association, cites Col. Michael Norton as saying that retaining a “flying mission in each state was the key deciding factor in allocating cuts across the Total Force A-10 fleet in Fiscal 2013.” Norton is the Air National Guard programs chief in the Pentagon. (See the full magazine posting at the end of this story.)
Broad cuts in U.S. defense spending include the removal of the 20 A-10 Thunderbolt fighter planes from the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith. The unit has almost 1,000 full- and part-time employees. The loss of the fighter mission is scheduled to be replaced with the unmanned Predator drone. The drones and intelligence specialists needed to analyze drone-driven data would not be based in Fort Smith.
A recent Congressional compromise, which was included in the National Defense Authorization Act, retained A-10 units in Michigan and Indiana, but not with the Fort Smith-based 188th. Arkansas officials say the Air Force decision to reduce A-10 units was not based “on a detailed analysis of cost-efficiency.”
Arkansas’ Congressional delegation consists of U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; John Boozman, R-Ark.; U.S. Reps. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle; Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro; Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock; and Steve Womack, R-Rogers.
The delegation, which in 2012 included U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, sent repeated letters to the U.S. Secretary of Defense and Air Force officials seeking copies of their analysis behind the decision. No response from civilian and military defense officials were received. Arkansas and Fort Smith community officials alleged the decision to remove the A-10s was based on politics rather than military efficiencies.
Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Mark Welsh III is scheduled to visit the 188th Fighter Wing on Friday (Jan. 18).
Sen. Boozman’s office has said the visit is important because there is “nothing in legislation that says the 188th is being stripped of its mission.” The decision to remove the A-10 mission from Fort Smith is a Pentagon decision, and is subject to change, Boozman’s office has asserted.
Following is the complete posting by Arie Church with airforce-magazine.com.
Covering the Map: Retaining an Air National Guard flying mission in each state was the key deciding factor in allocating cuts across the Total Force A-10 fleet in Fiscal 2013, said Col. Michael Norton, ANG programs chief in the Pentagon. In this fiscal year's defense policy act, Congress allowed the retirement of 61 A-10s—41 fewer than the service requested in its original budget proposal. These cuts are equally divided between the Active Duty component (20), Air Guard (20), and Air Force Reserve Command (21), according to a summary of the Air Force's Fiscal 2013 force structure changes shown at the Jan. 10 media roundtable with Norton. When Air Force officials revised the service's original Fiscal 2013 force structure proposal after lawmakers raised concerns, they opted to restore A-10s to the Air Guard's 107th Fighter Squadron in Selfridge, Mich., and 163rd FS in Fort Wayne, Ind. The Air Guard's A-10 cuts will all come from the 188th Fighter Wing at Ft. Smith, Ark., a unit transitioning to remotely piloted aircraft. "If you look at a state like Indiana, A-10 is their only flying mission," said Norton. Conversely, "Arkansas has other flying missions," he added, citing the C-130s at Little Rock.