HILL AIR FORCE BASE — In a visit to Utah, the top uniformed officer in the Air Force told Airmen that it’s time for both sequestration and the A-10 to go.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III visited Hill Air Force Base on Oct. 15, touring the base’s F-35 facilities and speaking to Airmen and civilian employees at Hill in a town hall-style meeting.
According to a report from the base’s 75th Air Base Wing, Welsh told the Hill group the A-10, while long-beloved, needs to be retired.
The plane, which is nicknamed the Warthog for its rugged look, has been the United States’ primary close-air-support aircraft since the early 1970s.
The Air Force has repeatedly tried to retire the plane, but Congress continues to block those attempts, saying the plane is irreplaceable when it comes to close air support. The Air Force has tried to retire the plane as part of its fiscal year 2016 budget in a four-year phase-out that coordinates with the F-35 procurement plan.
The Department of Defense has said retiring the plane would create more than $4 billion in savings over five years.
By the end of the Air Force’s next budget cycle, Welsh said, the plane will be more than 50 years old.
“The capability gap between our Air Force and the air forces chasing us is closing and it’s closing dramatically,” Welsh said.
Welsh said the future threats will require U.S. forces to use close-air-support aircraft that are more cost-effective and carry more ammunition than the A-10.
“Let’s change the game on how we provide close air support,” Welsh said. “We can do it in five years — we just need the money. Holding on to old stuff is not going to make us better. We have to modernize.”
Welsh also discussed sequestration budget levels and subsequent furloughs that took place at Hill two years ago.
“I’m astonished that our government can’t come up with a better solution,” he said. “I’m sorry for what’s happened and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The general told Airmen to prepare to do more with less, especially after President Barack Obama’s recent announcement that the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan would be delayed.
“We’ve cut 40 percent of our Airmen since the first Gulf War,” he said. “We don’t have flexibility anymore. There’s not a magic fix coming any time soon.”