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Air Force to bench 9 of Davis-Monthan's A-10s

An Air Force crew chief watches as an A-10 Thunderbolt taxis into position after landing May 9, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

JOSHUA KLEINHOLZ/U.S. AIR FORCE

By DAVID WICHNER | The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson | Published: February 28, 2015

TUCSON, Ariz. (Tribune News Service) — The Air Force said Friday it will put nine A-10 Thunderbolt II jets at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on backup inventory status, shifting resources including maintenance personnel to the next-generation F-35 stealth fighter at other bases.

D-M officials do not know yet which of the base’s three flying A-10 units will be affected, or how many airmen will be affected, said Lt. Erin Ranaweera, a base spokeswoman.

The Air Force says it will convert a total of 18 combat-ready A-10s fleetwide from active units and place them into “Backup-Aircraft Inventory,” or BAI, status with the possibility to convert another 18 at a later date in fiscal year 2015.

Besides the moves at D-M, the Air Force says it will mothball six A-10s at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia and three at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

The Air Force is authorized to place up to 36 A-10 aircraft into BAI status, under provisions of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act passed last year.

Citing budget cuts, the Air Force has sought to retire the entire A-10 “Warthog” fleet, which includes more than 80 planes in three squadrons at D-M. Congress resisted, blocking the Air Force from closing any A-10 units but allowing some planes to be put into backup status.

D-M is home to three A-10 squadrons, including the 354th Fighter Squadron, an active-duty combat unit under the host 355th Fighter Wing. A dozen A-10s from the 354th “Bulldogs” were recently deployed to Europe. The other two A-10 squadrons at D-M are the 357th Fighter Squadron, an active-duty training unit; and the Reserve 47th Fighter Squadron training unit.

Besides the flying combat squadrons, each of which are staffed by about 20 pilots, maintenance and support squadrons under the 355th employ hundreds of airmen to maintain the A-10s and provide other mission support. With the Air Force looking to cut more than 10 percent of D-M’s A-10 fleet, commensurate personnel cuts or transfers could affect hundreds of airmen.

Converting aircraft to backup status will free up experienced maintainers so they can be trained to maintain the F-35 Lightning II next-generation fighter jet, the Air Force said.

“While we are authorized by Congress to put 36 aircraft into BAI status, doing that now would require taking down an entire squadron,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James said in a news release. “Out of respect for the intent of Congress, we’re placing 18 aircraft in BAI status.”

The Air Force says it “will assess whether this action adequately balances ongoing requirements and the need to modernize.”

“We will revisit this action as the year progresses to assess the need to put the additional 18 aircraft into BAI status,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III. “This action represents the difficult choices required to balance between maintaining the capacity to meet current operational requirements and the resource investment required to keep our modernization efforts on schedule.”

©2015 The Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Ariz.)
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