WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The Air Force, with congressional authorization, will convert 18 primary combat-coded A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft from active units and place them into Backup-Aircraft Inventory (BAI) status with the possibility to convert another 18 at a later date in fiscal year 2015.
The Secretary of Defense has authorized the Air Force to place up to a total of 36 A-10 aircraft into BAI status. Although Congress has authorized 36 of the A-10 aircraft to be put into BAI status, the Air Force has elected for the time being to place fewer in BAI status.
“At this time the Air Force is moving into BAI status only 18 A-10s of the 36 authorized in Sec 133 of the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James. “While we are authorized by Congress to put 36 aircraft into BAI status, doing that now would require taking down an entire squadron. Out of respect for the intent of Congress, we’re placing 18 aircraft in BAI status.”
The Air Force will assess whether this action adequately balances ongoing requirements and the need to modernize.
“We will revisit this action as the year progresses to assess the need to put the additional 18 aircraft into BAI status,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III. “This action represents the difficult choices required to balance between maintaining the capacity to meet current operational requirements and the resource investment required to keep our modernization efforts on schedule.”
The A-10s placed into BAI will serve as replacement aircraft for ones that become unserviceable. The A-10s slated for BAI status are currently assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona (9); Moody AFB, Georgia (6), and Nellis AFB, Nevada (3).
Converting aircraft to BAI status will free up experienced maintainers so they can be integrated into the F-35 Lightning II program.
“The secretary of Defense has certified that placing up to 36 A-10 aircraft into backup flying status is a necessary step to reduce the Air Force’s shortage of experienced fighter maintenance personnel,” said James.
The decision to put the 18 A-10’s into back-up status comes on the heels of the need to field maintainers for the F-35 program and on the recommendation of a Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) study in 2015. The independent study confirmed that a limited supply of experienced fighter maintenance personnel is constraining legacy fleet readiness and the standup of F-35A squadrons. Additionally, the CAPE study found that the transfer of even the limited number of A-10s to back-up flying status was far from sufficient to counter current maintenance manning and experience shortfalls.
As such, the Air Force will begin an early transition to the F-35 by converting one of the two F-16 Fighting Falcon squadrons at Hill AFB, Utah. The 4th Fighter Squadron will transition early in order to free up additional maintenance manpower for the F-35. While the Air Force plans to add an F-35 unit at Hill AFB, prohibitions on retiring A-10s prevent the Air Force from retraining enough maintainers to add an F-35 unit there, at this time. Transitioning one of the two F-16 squadrons early at Hill will allow the Air Force to retain critical in place maintenance personnel to support the F-35 reaching initial operational capability in August of 2016.
Additionally, the Air Force will contract some maintenance functions at Luke AFB, Arizona, to meet the F-35 bed down requirements. The Air Force is also investigating opportunities to capitalize on Total Force opportunities with its National Guard and Reserve components.
“Although these decisions will have some impact on our legacy aircraft readiness, putting A-10s into BAI status, transitioning a squadron early at Hill AFB, and contracting some F-35 maintenance functions at Luke AFB helps ensure enough Air Force maintainers are trained and in place to support the F-35 at initial operational capability and beyond,” said James.
BAI conversions do not impact planned A-10 deployments through the end of fiscal year 2018.