Now the Air Force’s 81st Fighter Squadron, 52nd TFW, the last operational A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog to everybody despite the official name) unit in Europe, is bugging out of Europe, leaving behind empty facilities at Spangdahlem AB, and, no doubt, a bunch of unpaid bar bills. (Unless there are any SF around. We owe these guys).
Some individual crews and jets have been in the States on training evolutions; they won’t be returning. Instead the remaining German-based elements will be withdrawn over the course of this year.
Now, some people say we’re not needed to keep the peace in Europe. After all, we showed those Europeans how it was done in 1918 and they’ve scarcely been any trouble since then. But withdrawal from Europe also moves these vital close-air-support jets at least 3,000 miles further away from any future scene of conflict in the Middle East or Central Asia. For a short-legged, 380-knot-flat-out jet, that’s a pretty consequential move.
As it turns out, though, the 81st is not going to be reconstituted; it’s not going home, it’s going away. That is the Air Force’s mid-range plan for the A-10 fleet as a whole. This year, along with the active Air Force 81st, the Air Force is also eliminating four more Guard and Reserve A-10 squadrons, an F-16 squadron, and an F-15 squadron. It’s pink-slipping 10,000 airmen, and canceling the C-27 intratheater cargo aircraft. It’s canceling new Global Hawk drones and will keep flying 1955-vintage U-2s on high-altitude, high-risk ISR missions.
The essential problem: the service is flat broke, and DOD suits like Ashton Carter want it spending less money on war stuff and more money on stuff that makes it look like a jobs program with blue suits. And the only way they can manage the financial shortfall is to shrink the service’s combat strength and hollow out its ranks and capabilities, especially those capabilities “wasted” on other services.
Like the A-10, the C-27 would primarily have served Army users, a customer base that Big Blue recognizes only grudgingly. In fact, the Army developed the C-27, and the Air Force seized the project, ostensibly with a view to joint-service standardization and efficiency. Everyone understood, though, having seen it before in 1966, that this meant that the Air Force would do what they did with the C-7 and C-8 fleet in and after Vietnam — eliminate them and leave the Army lift users running ground convoys instead. Sure, some grunts will get croaked but you can’t expect an Academy grad to put on his white scarf and saddle up some thing with propellers.
The Air Force claims they can serve the Army and SOF lift requirements with C-130s, but they leave the Army hanging already, and they also plan to scrap over 20% of the C-130 fleet. In addition, over 1/3 of the C-5 fleet will go to the smelter. We’ll do less with less, and zero-integrity PR weenies will Newspeak it as “more.”
The USAF will also cancel its annual show-the-flag trip to the Paris Air Show. International prestige is of no consequence when you have a president with the Nobel Peace Prize already!
Air Force spokesmen quibble about the word, but the cuts in personnel and equipment, and deep cuts in readiness items such as flight hours (cut 20% in some commands), and even cutting the “fly week” to only four of seven days, call for the term, “hollow force.” Operations and maintenance cuts in the past have always led to degraded combat readiness, increased mishap rates, and international signals of weakness.
Despite the cuts in the overall budget — and these are true cuts against past-years’ spending, not the typical Washington “cut” which is a reduction in rate of increase — some line items will see increases, mostly those related to pay and allowances, social welfare and other entitlements. In some degree, the services are being repurposed as a busy-work jobs program.
We’re going to be living in interesting times. Boar 22, thanks for the 30 mike-mike on target, we’re gonna miss you.