February 24, 2014
By Todd Spangler
Detroit Free Press Washington Staff
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is proposing to eliminate its A-10 aircraft fleet — including those at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan — as part of a wide-ranging reorganization that could potentially affect the Harrison Township facility.
State officials have said there are some 18 A-10s stationed at Selfridge and there are more than 400 people associated with their combat-support maneuvers at the base. It was not immediately known specifically how, or if, a grounding of the fleet could impact local personnel numbers.
U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, said the cutback — proposed in a speech by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today — could potentially compromise national security. She noted that a recent report by a commission on the structure of the Air Force concluded that the Air National Guard was a cost effective way to ensure the nation’s security.
“In fact, the Commission even recommended greater reliance on the Air Guard to save money and maintain a ready force,” she said.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the A-10 provides a vital capability that must be maintained, meaning it could be difficult for the Defense Department to push plans for grounding the fleet through Congress.
“Those who propose eliminating the A-10 have a heavy burden of proof. Any such proposal will receive close scrutiny as we develop the defense authorization act this year,” said Levin, who will be retiring after the year.
In recent years, Levin and Miller have raised concerns over attempts to cutback on the number of A-10s in the air and moves to reduce the role of the Air National Guard. Selfridge, with about 1,700 personnel assigned to the base, also flies KC-135 tankers.
In his remarks, Hagel said continued budget pressures require the Pentagon “to prioritize and make difficult choices.”
The Air Force would focus on “key modernization programs, including the new bomber, the Joint Strike Fighter, and the new refueling tanker,” he said, as well as investing in next-generation jet engine technology. In order to do so, however, he proposed reducing “the number of tactical air squadrons including the entire A-10 fleet.”
He said retiring the nation’s 340 A-10s will save $3.5-billion over five years and accelerate the plan to replace them with F-35s in the early 2020s.
Hagel also said he will ask Congress for another round of Base Realignment and Closure hearings in 2017, a move which could set off another politically explosive round of base closures.
“I am mindful that Congress has not agreed to our BRAC requests of the last two years,” Hagel said. “But if Congress continues to block these requests even as they slash the overall budget, we will have to consider every tool at our disposal to reduce infrastructure.”