Over the years, the US Air Force has been accused of mismanaging which weapons and people it cuts and how it cuts them.
After botched attempts at personnel cuts for the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve two years ago, members of Congress retaliated by freezing the Air Force’s entire budget and mandating an external commission to review the service’s force structure.
Time — and the savvy politics of Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, who worked to placate both sides of the dispute — have healed some of those wounds. But with sequestration, each of the military services has had to make tough calls, including retiring entire fleets of aircraft such as the A-10 Thunderbolt II attack jet, one of the best close-air support aircraft ever built.
Top Air Force officials have pledged to provide US ground forces with close-air support, noting planes such as the F-15E, B-52, B-1 and F-16 now perform 80 percent of the mission in Afghanistan.
Air Force leaders deserve credit for communicating their plans to the Army, the leading customer for close-air support, while working with Air Guard units that would be losing the A-10s and sending them newer aircraft and missions that officials say will make those bases more relevant.
That’s not enough to quell critics of the decision, however. Supporters of the plane have mobilized in Congress, led by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., the wife of a former A-10 pilot.
Ayotte has been instrumental in passing legislation that — for now, at least — forces the Air Force to retain the plane.
At a time when tough decisions must be made, top leadership has demonstrated a workable model for controversial decisions.
Given that more such tough choices lie ahead, it’s a good model to follow in the future.