GAO Criticizes Air Force Decision to Scrap A-10 Warthogs

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In an effort to save money, the U.S. Air Force has announced plans to retire its 40-year old A-10 close air support (CAS) aircraft beginning in 2018. Congressional opposition to the plan got a boost on Wednesday when the Government Accountability Office (GAO) faulted the decision, saying that the Air Force does not have “quality information on the full implications” of its plan.

The A-10, known as the Warthog, counts Arizona Senator John McCain and New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte among its staunchest supporters. Supporters of retaining the aircraft got some help from the GAO report, which said that it is “unclear how effective or necessary the Air Force’s and the [Department of Defense’s] mitigation strategies will be”:

For example, although the Air Force has several efforts underway to generally mitigate the loss of capabilities that would result from A-10 divestment, it has not identified how or if it will replace the A-10’s role in combat search and rescue missions. Depending on the specific mitigation strategy chosen, the Air Force may have to address a number of different secondary impacts that could affect its ability to execute existing missions. The A-10 is one example of a challenge DOD could continue to face as it balances current needs against investing in the future force to replace aging systems.

According to a March report in Defense News, the Air Force plans to divest two A-10 squadrons, or 49 planes, in fiscal 2018. The service will retire 49 aircraft in fiscal year 2019, 64 in fiscal year 2020 and 96 in fiscal year 2021, a total of 258. There were 288 A-10s in service in 2015, according to data from Flight Global.

The A-10 was designed and first built by Fairchild Republic, which was acquired by Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE: NOC) in 1987. According to an April 2015 report from FlightGlobal, the USAF had 288 Warthogs in active service. In order to transition maintenance and support smoothly to a new plane, the Air Force wants to retire the A-10 and move the maintenance crews to its anointed successor, the F-35 from Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT).

In June of 2015, the GAO questioned the Air Force’s plan to mothball the A-10, saying that the projected $4.2 billion in savings were based on incomplete evidence.