The Air Force’s plan to defer retiring its fleet of A-10 close air support aircraft until fiscal 2022 means that the service intends to complete the beloved attack plane’s departure from its inventory by Oct. 1, 2021, and was not meant to indicate the service planned to retain its full inventory of the aircraft until that time, officials clarified this week.
“The budget defers the A-10’s final retirement until 2022, replacing it with F-35s on a squadron-by-squadron basis so we’ll always have enough aircraft for today’s conflict,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters on Feb. 2 when he previewed the department’s FY 2017 budget request.
This week, though, a spokeswoman confirmed that the Air Force will begin retiring the aircraft in FY 2018 by divesting two squadrons, or 49 aircraft. The service will retire 49 aircraft in FY 2019, 64 in FY 2020, and 96 in FY 2021, reported Defense News.
The multi-role F-35 will replace the A-10 — along with the rest of the service’s legacy fighter jets — although officials have said the fifth-generation fighter cannot match the A-10 as a single-mission close air support (CAS) aircraft.
“We are losing CAS capacity, that’s what the Budget Control Act has done to us,” Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday.
The Air Force needs to begin divesting A-10 squadrons in FY 2018 to free up the necessary manpower to field the F-35 when it reaches full operational capability in FY 2021, Welsh said. The service is experiencing shortages in maintenance personnel, including crew chiefs and avionics specialists.