An A-10 Thunderbolt II maneuvers during an exercise in Alaska in August. The US Air Force picked up a pair of task orders for maintenance and support this week. (Senior Airman Shawn Nickel/US Air Force)
WASHINGTON — The US Air Force may be planning to cut the A-10 Thunderbolt, but that doesn’t mean it plans to stop upkeep of its current fleet.
The service picked up a pair of task orders for maintenance and support this week, awarding nearly $24 million to contractor Northrop Grumman. The task orders were part of an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract vehicle awarded in 2009.
“Northrop Grumman is proud to continue to support the Air Force’s premier ground attack aircraft,” John Parker, director of Northrop’s global logistics and modernization business unit, said in a news release. “Our focus is to always provide our customer with the highest level of engineering services possible to ensure superior program performance. We look forward to continuing our work with the Air Force and the A-10 Thunderbolt.”
The Air Force has been clear for months that if sequestration remains the law of the land, it will have to make “vertical cuts” — the removal of entire platforms from the fleet — to fund its key modernization and readiness priorities. Those cuts are likely to come from fleets that are single-mission, with the A-10 being openly discussed by service officials as on the chopping block.
Supporters of the A-10 argue that the plane is the most effective close-air support platform in the fleet, with distinguished actions over the past decade that saved the lives of troops on the ground. Critics point out that the plane will have limited versatility as the service pivots toward the Pacific, and say that jets such as the F-35 can fill that mission adequately without being single-mission platforms.
There are 346 A-10 aircraft in the inventory, according to Air Force statistics. About half of the A-10 fleet resides in the Air National Guard. An Air Force proposal to cut five A-10 squadrons last year faced stiff opposition in Congress and from state governors.
Congress has already begun throwing up roadblocks in the way of potential A-10 cuts, with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., filing an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act to protect the platform.
There are no A-10s based in New Hampshire. Aides say Ayotte, whose husband is a former A-10 pilot, is concerned that the Air Force is moving to retire the attack planes before a suitable replacement aircraft is fielded.
Ayotte’s amendment essentially would delay the retirement plan by slapping on a slew of time-consuming — but not difficult — certification requirements. In a large bureaucracy, such things can take time to bounce around the involved offices and then up to service leaders.
The amendment, if adopted by the chamber and then a House-Senate conference committee, would hold up the release of funds for A-10 retirement plans until the Air Force secretary delivers a number of certifications, including a number of technical milestones for the F-35A not expected until the end of the decade.
John T. Bennett contributed to this report.