Air Force details force structure cuts

Air Guard bears brunt of cuts as service announces which seven squadrons will lose their missions.

Air Force leadership laid out Friday afternoon what units will lose missions and which ones will get new ones with the Air National Guard bearing the brunt of the drawdown.

The Air Force will retire or reclassify aircraft in seven squadrons with four being Air National Guard units. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley announced the service will retire 286 aircraft over the next five years with 227 leaving the fleet in 2013.

Read the exact details of what aircraft are going where and what squadrons will receive new missions over the next five years in the white paper issued by the Air Force Friday at 1 p.m. titled “USAF Force Structure Changes: Sustaining Readiness and Modernizing the Total Force.”

Five A-10 squadrons, one F-16 squadron, and one F-15 training squadron will retire or reclassify to new missions. The F-16 Aggressor Squadron that stood up at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, in 2008, the 18th Aggressor Squadron, will transfer to Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

Friday’s announcement also outlined the bases that had been scheduled to receive C-27s before the Air Force cancelled the program. Seven bases from seven states will lose the mobility aircraft.

As expected, the Air National Guard took it on the chin. Donley explained Thursday that it was time the reserve component absorbed the level of cuts the active duty has in past years.

“The track record for the Air Force is that most of the reductions in the past several years actually going back a decade have been in the active force,” he said.

The Guard and Reserves makes up a larger portion of the Air Force than it had two decades ago. The Guard and Reserve make up 35 percent of the Air Force compared to 25 percent in 1990. Guard and Reserve units also own a larger portion of aircraft growing from 23 percent to 28 percent since 1990.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said the service targeted aircraft and units with “niche” missions while protecting multirole aircraft. The A-10 Thunderbolt better known as the “Warthog” was one of those niche aircraft.

Five A-10 squadrons will close or receive new missions as the service plans to retire 102 A-10s — or 29 percent of the service’s total fleet of 348 aircraft. Air Guard squadrons will lose 54 of the 102 A-10 Warthogs, or half the Guard’s fleet, which service officials plan to mothball.

Schwartz defended the decision to target A-10s saying it didn’t match the service’s vision of its future fleet. He also pointed out the service will keep 246 in the Air Force.

The A-10s mission didn’t match the new defense strategy that discourages long term stability operations and celebrates aircraft that can penetrate high tech air defense systems in countries such as China, Iran or North Korea, according to the force structure white paper.

Col. David Augustine, the 122nd Fighter Wing commander, will lose the 163rd Fighter Squadron and its A-10s from his command. He said he and his pilots are disappointed after just transferring from an F-16 to an A-10 squadron.

“I think there are some strong reasons the Air Force should keep the A-10s. It’s a great aircraft,” hes said.

Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell has already vowed “to fight tooth and nail” to keep the F-16 squadron, the 124th Fighter Squadron, targeted for retirement in his state.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., questioned why the Air Force targeted the Air Guard when the service would save more money by cutting active duty infrastructure.

“Instead of taking a prudent and options-open approach to manpower reductions, the Air Force proposes to severely cut the Air National Guard, which would save relatively little and which, once done, cannot be undone,” Leahy said in a statement.

Earlier in the week, Air National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Harry “Bud” Wyatt questioned Schwartz’s definition of balance implying that certain portions of the service would shoulder an unfair load of the drawdown. On Friday, he released a statement saying he supported the force structure reductions and new missions his units will receive.

“While we embrace this opportunity to transition to new missions best suited to units and the community, it is our intent to ensure the Air Force maintains the skills and experience the Air Guard provides the governors and the Department of Defense. We will work with the units impacted by today’s announcement to ensure that their designated transitions are smooth,” Wyatt said in an e-mail to