Skip to comments.Planned cuts could threaten Davis-Monthan's future
Posted on 05/04/2014 9:32:13 AM PDT by SandRat
The Air Forces plan to retire its entire fleet of A-10C Warthogs could make Davis-Monthan Air Force Base vulnerable to the next round of base closures.
In its proposed budget, the Air Force would eliminate the close air support jet, including 55 active-duty A-10Cs at D-M, by fiscal year 2016 and 28 Air Force Reserve A-10Cs at D-M by fiscal 2019. In 2019, 21 F-16s would be moved to a Reserve unit at the base.
The Pentagon also plans to cut its fleet of EC-130H Compass Call electronic warfare planes based solely at Davis-Monthan roughly in half, to eight planes by fiscal 2016.
Those changes would affect other maintenance and support squadrons, likely eliminating some 2,000 jobs, officials have said.
That alone would undoubtedly be a blow to D-M and the Tucson-area economy. But more significantly, the cuts make the base a potential target for the next Base Realignment and Closure moves, which the Pentagon hopes will be in 2017.
They look at each base individually what is it doing, how it is supporting the overall mission, said Ron Shoopman, a retired Air Force brigadier general and president of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council. The Air Force right now estimates it has about 30 percent too much infrastructure for the mission that they have, so if you take them at their word, youre talking about nearly one in three bases closing.
Members of Congress typically try to protect their military communities but even then, D-M is at a disadvantage, said Shoopman, who formerly commanded the Air National Guard 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport.
Its not supposed to be a fairness issue, but if every state has to give a little something, its kind of what you end up expecting, he said. There are four big bases in Arizona, and the others have unique, long-term missions. Davis-Monthan at this point looks to be the most vulnerable.
While a base-closure process is not expected until 2017 at the soonest, the armed services can cut deeply without a formal BRAC, which involves moving and consolidating units, as well as eliminating units and bases.
Barry Rhoads, a Washington-based consultant on defense matters including base realignment, calls the cuts aimed at D-M a shadow BRAC.
People say theres no BRAC, but youre losing basically the platform for Davis-Monthan with the proposed A-10 retirement, said Rhoads, co-chairman of the Washington consulting firm of Cassidy & Associates and a retired Army lieutenant colonel.
The military services have little choice, said Rhoads, who represented the state of Arizona in BRAC proceedings in 1995.
When you cant cut infrastructure, which is a fixed cost the only alternative that DOD has is that they are going to have to decrease personnel and platforms, so thats what you see, he said.
There is some reason for optimism. Davis-Monthan hosts more than 40 units including some that are unique in the U.S. arsenal, such as the Air Forces only electronic warfare unit. One key mission at the base combat search and rescue wasnt marked for cuts, but the Air Force had proposed canceling a next-generation rescue helicopter. But in mid-March, the Air Force decided to move some $400 million from other programs to start building the future rescue copter.
Another unit associated with D-M the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, or The Boneyard is expanding and likely will have plenty of future work as more planes are mothballed. The Boneyard is the Air Forces main aircraft storage and maintenance facility, where old aircraft are prepared for long-term storage and used for parts or sold.
The Boneyard is an important mission, and the Air Force values that operation, so the chances of that runway remaining open are pretty good, Shoopman said.
But it operates on leased city land adjacent to D-M, and its presence may not be enough to save D-M as a major base, he said.
If you pull the lions share of the missions out of Davis-Monthan, it would be a big loss for us.
A-10 CUTS UNDER WAY
Cuts to the A-10 fleet are already having an effect at bases, including Davis-Monthan.
In February, one of D-Ms two active-duty A-10 training units, the 358th Fighter Squadron, was deactivated and its mission was transferred to the Air Force Reserve 47th Fighter Squadron, also at D-M.
The other active-duty A-10 squadron at D-M is the 354th Fighter Squadron, a combat unit that operates about 25 A-10Cs for close air support, forward air control and combat rescue. There are National Guard and Reserve A-10 units as well.
No other A-10 cuts are in progress at D-M. In fact, cuts elsewhere have meant more planes and pilots at the local base, at least for now.
Many Warthogs have been deactivated from other bases in recent years, and some with relatively low flying hours on them have been flown to D-M to replace more-used aircraft.
On the sun-soaked A-10 flight line one recent weekday morning, Lt. Col. Michael Scud Curley pointed out the markings on several A-10Cs that had recently arrived from units deactivated at other bases, including the Fort Smith Air National Guard Station in Arkansas, Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and Spangdahlem Air Force Base in Germany. Theyll be repainted with tail lettering and insignia of their new units, including the 357th Dragons.
For now, pilots from deactivated A-10 units are being assigned to the 357th while they await new assignments, boosting the number of pilots in the squadron to more than 60 from the normal 40, said Curley, commander of the 357th Fighter Squadron, the only active-duty A-10 training unit in the Air Force.
Right now theyre slowly getting their assignments and moving on to other things, he said.
But few billets for A-10 pilots remain, including two fighter squadrons at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia and a base in South Korea.
Thats probably one of the hardest parts of my job; theres so much uncertainty about that, said Curley, who has flown A-10s since the late 1990s and has deployed on combat missions in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
It would be a shame to not have somewhere for these guys to go to, said Curley, who has spent his entire 17-year career flying A-10s in combat and training.
The timing is the trick because budgets are shrinking, but after a few years of not flying, guys lose their skills. You cant afford to just sit these guys and not have them continue to use them.
D-Ms two training squadrons the 357th and the 358th, now the Reserve 47th have been training about 70 pilots per year, including about 20 new pilots and requalifying existing pilots, Curley said.
The 357th flies about 20 to 22 A-10 training sorties each day, with instructors flying as wingmen, as the A-10s typically fly into combat in pairs. On a typical 11-hour training day, pilots attend preflight briefings as crew members from the 355th Maintenance Group crawl over the planes, preparing them for takeoff.
A couple of hours later, the planes are in the air for two-hour training sorties, mainly on the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, which stretches from Gila Bend nearly to Yuma. Then its back to the base for debriefing and preparation for the next days training.
Curley said his pilot instructors remain focused on their missions despite the budget uncertainty.
Theyre not going to get too wrapped around the axle with stuff they cant control, and they stay motivated and do a great job training these guys, he said. They know, too, that if the A-10 is around for one or 20 years, they (the students) are going to eventually fly something else, so it behooves them to teach them about close air support.
Air Force brass say they love what the A-10 brings to the battlefield, but they cant afford the single-mission Warthog. Under their plan, the A-10s close air support mission would be taken up by other aircraft, including the F-16 and the F-35 Lightning II multirole fighter, which has yet to reach formal operating status.
Many former military members and military experts doubt the F-35 can match the Warthogs ability to fly low and slow and loiter to provide persistent, precise air support to ground troops that may be as close as a few meters away from the enemy.
Curley is hopeful the F-35 will be up to the job.
The problem right now is we dont, I dont really know, Curley said. My two cents is, the jurys still out, but I know folks are working on that and trying to maintain the capability.
He added, Theres no doubt in my mind that the A-10, regardless of how long its around, will probably go down as one of the most well-designed airplanes, and one of the most successful aircraft ever built for close air support.
In the meantime, he said, Davis-Monthans airmen remain focused on their missions.
Its still exciting to fly and fun to teach new A-10 pilots, he said. So despite all the noise in the background that we know that we really cant control, when these guys show up to do their flying duties, its really not an issue.
Besides the A-10, one of D-Ms unique combat units and one of its most deployed also faces proposed budget cuts.
The 55th Electronic Combat Group at D-M is the only operator of the EC-130 Compass Call aircraft the only U.S. warplane used exclusively to jam enemy communications. The 55th has a force of about 840 people and 14 Compass Call aircraft in five squadrons two combat squadrons, one training squadron and maintenance and operations-support squadrons.
But the Air Forces 2015 budget plan would cut seven of those planes by fiscal year 2016.
Leaders of the 55th declined to discuss budget issues. But the commander of the 55th Electronic Combat Group, Col. Marty Reynolds, noted that elements of the 55th have been continuously deployed for more than a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan. The unit recently surpassed 10,400 combat sorties and 64,200 flight hours.
We recently marked our 10th year deployed, and we still have men and women there now, said Reynolds, a longtime electronic-warfare pilot and commander.
With eight hours of flying time and aerial refueling capabilities, the EC-130s can fly to a battle zone on a moments notice and loiter nearby, disrupting enemy communications.
If you cant hear whoevers sending you information, we can basically stay a step ahead of them, said Col. John Rye, deputy commander of the 55th ECG. Just keeping the enemy from talking to each other we can stay at a good distance and still affect whatever communications we are trying to disrupt, degrade or deny.
The EC-130s are flown with a crew of 13, including a four-person flight crew, electronic warfare specialists and cryptological language analysts specialists fluent in foreign languages who interpret intercepted messages to determine what must be jammed.
Working with other U.S. and allied units, including special-operations units, the EC-130s protect forces from attack all along the kill chain from ground observers to radar units to enemy aircraft.
We can disrupt all of those, we can take any one of those out so it basically keeps the enemies from getting our guys, Rye said.
In action over Libya in 2011, an EC-130 from D-M used a new radar-jamming capability for the first time to enforce the no-fly zone and protect civilians, said Capt. Kyle Eichorst.
You would hear a lot of Gadhafi trying to bomb his own citizens, to get them out of the way, and thats where we would come in, just to prevent that coordination, Eichorst said.
Like other Air Force planes, the EC-130 is an aging platform. The 55ths EC-130s are, on average, 40 years old and cost about $165 million apiece, including their extensive arrays of electronic equipment.
While the Air Force has proposed halving the EC-130 force, it is moving forward with planned upgrades of the aircraft and training facilities at D-M.
In February, the 55th received its first EC-130H Compass Call aircraft modified to enhance precision and increase attack capacity, expand satellite communications and add networking features. It also has airframe improvements to help the aircraft survive in combat.
Last August, the base broke ground on a new EC-130 flight-deck simulator building, to be completed in October. The $78 million complex will be the new home of the 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron, part of the 55th that trains Compass Call flight crews.
There is no direct Compass Call replacement in development, though the Air Force has said its goal is to fit advanced electronic jamming pods on front-line fighter jets and unmanned aircraft.
Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All
Here are some details about D-M units facing major proposed budget cuts:
355th FIGHTER WING
The host unit providing medical, logistical, mission support, and operational support to all assigned units. The wing's missions are to train A-10 and OA-10 pilots and to provide A-10 and OA-10 close support and forward air control to ground forces worldwide.
355th Operations Group
About 280 active-duty personnel across five squadrons (each fighter squadron normally has about 40 pilots): 354th Fighter Squadron (Bulldogs): Operates 25 A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft for close air support, airborne forward air control and search-and-rescue support 355th Training Squadron; Conducts A-10C academic pilot training for more than 100 students annually, using more than $5 million of advanced aircraft simulators 357th Fighter Squadron (Dragons): Trains A-10 pilots in close air support, forward air control and search-and-rescue support. (Duties of another training squadron, the 358th, were recently shifted to the Reserve 47th Fighter Squadron, also at D-M) 355th Operations Support Squadron: Provides support including airfield, air traffic control and weather services, weapons and tactics, plans and exercises, intelligence and aircrew flight equipment, to 355th Wing squadrons and other flying units on base. 355th Maintenance Group (about 1,800 personnel) 355th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron: Maintains A-10 aircraft with more than 500 personnel in 13 different maintenance specialties 355th Equipment Maintenance Squadron: Provides maintainenance support including testing for Davis-Monthan's A-10, C-130 and HH-60 (helicopter) aircraft, with more than 600 personnel 355th Component Maintenance Squadron: Mission: Performs intermediate-level maintenance including engine repair and testing, and maintenance of avionics, navigation, computer, electronic warfare, and photographic equipment 355th Maintenance Operations Squadron: Provides maintenance command and control and directs maintenance scheduling and analysis
355th Mission Support Group (about 1,350 personnel) 355th Security Forces Squadron 355th Civil Engineer Squadron 355th Communications Squadron 355th Contracting Squadron 355th Logistics Readiness Squadron 355th Force Support Squadron
355th Medical Group (about 250 personnel) 355th Medical Support Squadron 355th Aerospace Medical Squadron 355th Dental Squadron 355th Medical Operations Squadron
55th ELECTRONIC COMBAT GROUP
About 280 personnel work in this associate unit under command of the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. 41st Electronic Combat Squadron ("Scorpions): Operates EC-130H Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft, conducts mission qualification training 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron ("Raptors): Sole electronic attack formal flight training unit in the Air Force for EC-130H Compass Call air crews 43d Electronic Combat Squadron ("Bats): Operates EC-130H Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft, conducts mission qualification training 755th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron: Maintains EC-130H Compass Call aircraft 755th Operations Support Squadron: Directs operational support functions including planning, exercises, cryptologic training, scheduling and weapons and tactics for Compass Call squadrons
Source: Davis-Monthan Air Force Base
The bone-yard will be around for another thousand years. The remainder of the base? It’s hard to say. The town has encroached the base now on all four sides. I was stationed there for 3.5 years and can say that Tucson is a miserable place from May to October. But from a standard of living...it is fairly cheap there.
I loved watching the Warty’s fly out of Hauchuca.
I agree, I do not see the boneyard going away.
Another step in Obama’s war on America’s military effectiveness.
If we need em, let’s keep and support em. If we don’t need em, the argument about losing jobs is nonsense. We don’t build unneeded things merely to provide job’s We build based on need. The warthogs always seem to provide a significant need.
Symbolic of what Mullah Obama is turning our country into.
A10s can’t live in the air when the targets are carrying MANPADS. Their day is over.
I spent a summer in Tucson back in the 70s and I thought it was nice.
Every day the clouds would build up around the mountains until sundown when we got a thunderstorm which dropped the temperature way down.
Every sunset was post card perfect.
It’s six hours from San Diego.
It’s six hours from Guaymas, Mexico and great fishing/boating/diving.
It’s next to an incredible saguaro forest.
It’s 45 minutes from a mountaintop pine forest.
Looks like Gabby Giffords and the Rat successor were really minding the store while the Pentagon looked for ways to slash the budget—and Air Force capabilities.
I was once a member of the 355th Wing, assigned to Stan/Eval in the operations group, though the aircraft I flew was retired a decade ago. The capabilities and value of the A-10 have been frequently cited on this board. But relatively few people know about Compass Call (EC-130H) and its mission. BTW, in my day, Compass Call was a part of the 355th at Davis-Monthan, but the three squadrons belong to the 55th Wing at Offut.
The EC-130H is, essentially, the only airborne communications jammer in the U.S. inventory; with a mission crew of electronic warfare officers and linguists, they can identify enemy comm nodes and suppress them. There is also a secondary collection capability with the platform, augmenting systems like the RC-135 Rivet Joint.
The idea that you can replace such capabilities—and experience—by hanging another pod on a Growler or one of the Marine Corps’ remaining Prowlers—is ludicrous. It’s akin to putting the HARM targeting system on the F-16 and calling it a true SEAD platform. What made the F-4G such a great SEAD asset was the APR-47 and the experienced EWO in the backseat. I’ve been retired for more than a decade, but the last I heard, the HTS still couldn’t match the APR-47/EWO combination in terms of frequency coverage and analysis.
Once you lose a capability like the F-4G or the EC-130H, you’ll never get it back. But other platforms keep soldiering on, despite their declining value. Case-in-point: the EC-130E Commando Solo PSYOP platform. Does a great job broadcasting propaganda broadcasts over the AM, FM and TV bands. Only one problem—and we saw this as early as Operation Allied Force over Kosovo and Serbia in 1999—if you’re operating against a modernized enemy, most of the people targeted by your broadcasts will never see or hear them. That’s because much of today’s audience watches TV by cable or satellite and listens to audio on-line.