The Pentagon seems bent on retiring its fleet of A-10 combat jets, 20 of which are flown from the Air National Guard base in Fort Wayne.
But Congress appears equally determined to keep the jets flying and fighting.
In September, the Air Force Times reported that an internal document showed the Air Combat Command hoped to mothball its 326 A-10s by 2015 because of budget constraints. The 1970s-era “Warthog,” popular for providing air support to ground troops, is regarded by the Air Force as too specialized and too slow for future missions.
In December, Congress passed a defense authorization bill that prevents the Pentagon from spending money in fiscal 2014 “to retire, prepare to retire, or place in storage” any A-10s other than those whose retirements had been ordered before April 9, 2013.
Fort Wayne’s 122nd Fighter Wing has been through this battle before. In 2012, as the Ferguson Road base was completing its three-year conversion from F-16s to A-10s, the Air Force proposed replacing the Warthogs there with far fewer propeller planes used for intelligence and surveillance. There would have been no more bombs, missiles or machine guns to maintain, which would have eliminated 150 full- and part-time jobs.
The proposal was part of a nationwide base realignment strategy that Congress ultimately rejected. In the meantime, the 122nd Fighter Wing organized broad resistance to the plan from community groups, Indiana’s National Guard commander and the state’s congressional delegation.
“This is a fighter base, and I think it’s important that Fort Wayne dig in and make the case for this continuing to be a fighter base for many years to come,” then U.S. Rep. and future Gov. Mike Pence said during a visit to the 122nd Fighter Wing.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, said the same thing last week in regard to the congressional moratorium on A-10 retirements.
“The 122nd Fighter Wing is an efficient and battle-tested force and I’ll continue standing shoulder to shoulder with the Indiana National Guard as we work to keep fighters right here in Fort Wayne,” Stutzman said in an email.
Base officials have been saying for several years that they hope to win Pentagon approval as a home for the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But that aircraft is not expected to be mission-ready until 2020.
“If the A-10s are divested, the state is interested in flying any fighter platform as a bridge mission to obtain the F-35 in the future,” Col. David Augustine, the base commander, said Thursday in an email.
The local base has been a fighter wing since its inception in 1946. But without further congressional intervention, its fate as such could be up in the air, again.