Boom times for the Boneyard

The only place the Air Force is likely to expand anytime soon is at its iconic aircraft junkyard in the Arizona desert.

The Air Force has decided it has “excess capacity,” Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said last week, and as such, many of its airplanes are going away.

The service outlined how many cargo aircraft it would “divest” or retire in the Pentagon’s budget “preview,” but our distinguished colleague Mike Hoffman added to the list Tuesday with a story detailing the fighter squadrons that officials are expected to close. That intra-service food fight people have been expecting between the active and reserve components evidently played out in favor of the active side — so far — as the Air Force’s planned closures targeted mostly Guard and Reserve units.

Specifically, the Air Force’s beloved — by everyone else — A-10 Warthog appears set to bear the brunt of DoD’s cost cutting strategic realignment. Five A-10 squadrons appear set to go away, three Guard, one Reserve and one active duty. The Air Force also plans to decommission one Guard F-16 and one F-15 training squadron, Hoffman wrote.

That will leave the Air Force with many A-10s it can call into service as it wants, but its leadership may consider the floodgates open for good now, especially as U.S. forces plan to transition out of Afghanistan. If we’re all honest with ourselves, the Air Force never really loved the A-10 — perhaps because the ghost of Curtis LeMay wants air power to destroy the enemy’s tank factory, not his individual tanks on the ground; or because the A-10 is essentially just a gun with wings, not an invisible, hypersonic super-jet with a death ray. Whatever the reason, history could show that last Thursday’s announcement was the beginning of the end for the Warthog.

Of course, its death has been announced before, but the A-10 has proven very hard to kill.

As for the other aircraft the Air Force wants to go away, many of them are cargo planes. It plans to get rid of 27 C-5As, 65 C-130s and all of its C-27Js. They’ll probably end up with the A-10s, F-16 and F-15s in the Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB. Most of those aircraft could soon be harvested for parts, but Schwartz said airmen will protect the C-27s for now.

“Type-1000 storage is essentially recoverable storage,” he said. “You don’t use the airplanes for spare parts.  You don’t pick and choose and cherry- pick, which type-2000 storage allows you to do.  So obviously, type-1000 storage is more expensive.  It requires sort of ongoing surveillance and so on.  So that — the disposition is not final-final, but those are the options.”