We’d previously noted that the force structure to be cut in FY13 weren’t really hard decisions, citing no less of an authority than former Vice-Chairman General Cartwright. Specifically, we’d suggested that the Air Force wouldn’t consider it too hard a decision to cut Guard/Reserve aircraft. Well, the Military Times is now reporting what aircraft the Air Force wants to cut and not only are 6 of the 7 squadrons to be cut Guard and Reserve units, 5 of those 7 are A-10s (one of which is the lone active squadron being cut).
That’s important because close-air-support—the A-10s reason for being—has never been one of the Air Force’s favorite missions, largely because, as its name implies, its conducted mainly in support of the Army. Maybe most illuminating, the language the new Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, James Winnefeld, used to justify cutting the A-10 units sounds amazingly close to what we’ve heard before. Here’s what Winnefeld said in his Military Times interview:
Is the F-35 going to be as good a close-air support platform as an A-10? I don’t think anybody believes that,” he said, “But is the A-10 going to be the air-to-air platform that the F-35 is going to be? So again, the Air Force is trying to get as much multimission capability into the limited number of platforms it’s going to have.
And here’s Dick Stubbing describing the Air Force’s reservations about the A-10 back when it was first being bought in the early 1970s:
In early 1973 the Fairchild A-l0A was named the winner of the competition [for a new close-air-support aircraft]. But resistance to the A-10 remained strong in large portions of the Air Force leadership. Many Air Force generals still clung to the service's traditional posture that all tactical aircraft should be endowed with multi mission capabilities- including aerial dogfighting at supersonic speeds.
Richard Stubbing with Richard Mendel, The Defense Game, (Harper and Row:1986) , p. 142.
The Air Force prefers “multi-mission” aircraft because it can better use those for the tasks it wants to do, without conceding that it doesn’t provide close air support. So although the Air Force is cutting in response to budget pressures, its cutting those aircraft it least wants. That may be the right answer depending on your view of the future strategic environment, but it doesn’t yet sound like a hard decision.