WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force can continue installing new wings on the venerable A-10 Warthog thanks to $103 million in the omnibus spending bill that will restart the production line.
Congress on Thursday passed a $1.3 trillion spending measure for fiscal 2018, which was signed by President Donald Trump on Friday afternoon. Now that the bill is law, the service will get the money it needs to stand up a new production line for A-10 wings and buy the first four wing sets.
The Air Force has already rewinged 173 A-10s (including one aircraft that has since crashed), but 109 Warthogs are still flying with their original wings.
Even though the service intends to fly the A-10 until 2030, it could be forced to begin grounding aircraft as soon as FY18 if it is unable to buy new wing sets, Air Force Materiel Command head Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski told Defense News last September.
The service had to wait for the FY18 budget to pass before it could restart the wing replacement program, but it has already taken some initial steps to speed along the process.
In February, it put forward a draft request for proposals stipulating that the Air Force could buy up to 112 wing sets — enough to outfit the remainder of the Warthog inventory.
“Due to potential A-10 groundings, this acquisition is being expedited to the maximum extent possible,” the solicitation noted, and contractors will be incentivized to deliver the initial four wing sets early, according to the draft RFP.
A draft schedule stated that the service could release a final RFP in April ahead of a contract award as early as March 2019.
Thus far, the Air Force has not committed putting new wings on all 109 A-10s in need of a replacement. Air Combat Command head Gen. Mike Holmes said in January that he wasn’t sure how many Warthogs will be covered in the rewing effort, adding that it “will depend on a Department of Defense decision and our work with Congress.”
Over the past several years, the Air Force has given little support to the A-10, pushing to retire the famed ground support aircraft from FY15 onward. In FY18, the service decided to retain the aircraft but kept the procurement of new wings out of its budget, bumping it instead into the unfunded wish list given to Congress every year.
The service requested $79 million in its FY19 budget proposal — a sign that the service was ready to dedicate part of its funding to retaining the A-10 fleet. That sum was originally intended to restart the wing production line, in the case that Congress opted not to include money in its spending bill for the Air Force’s unfunded requirement.
Now it can be directly spent on wing procurement, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
“We think that will get us between eight and 12 more [sets] in fiscal year 2019,” she said.
The question remains which defense company will step up to produce the new wings.
Boeing is slated to deliver about a dozen wing sets this year to wrap up a contract for 173 units. However, the company has had recent difficulties producing and delivering wing sets on time due a delay in obtaining a part from its supplier.
The Air Force plans to pursue other vendors for follow-on wing production, in part because leaders felt its agreement with Boeing had become too costly.
“It was a contract that was no longer really cost-effective for Boeing to produce wings under, and there were options there that we weren’t sure that we were going to go [do], so now we’re working through the process of getting another contract,” Holmes said last month.