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Tucson’s A-10s headed to final destination as Davis-Monthan lands new special ops mission

If there’s one issue in southern Arizona that’s held near-universal bipartisan consensus for years, it’s the importance of keeping the A-10 Thunderbolt II flying over local skies. .

But after more than a decade and more than a billion dollars spent on aircraft upgrades, the U.S. Air Force has been trying to retire the legendary Warthog, but it’s finally here. Advance A-10 retirement plansincluding aircraft based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Three squadrons at Tucson, flying a total of 78 A-10s, will be inactive and retired, while the 47th Fighter Squadron and the 357th Fighter Squadron will continue training A-10s until they are inactive.

Instead, a new U.S. Air Force Special Operations Wing will be based here, flying small turboprop aircraft that are more reminiscent of World War II fighters than jet-era fighters.

The move comes after a series of U.S. Senators and Representatives from Arizona have fought for years with the Pentagon to maintain the A-10 presence in southern Arizona.

Rep. Ron Barber said in 2014 that keeping the A-10 “is a mission we won’t stop fighting,” joining Sen. John McCain in promoting a plan to replace strike aircraft with the F-35. “It may be ugly, but it’s a fine plane,” he said.

Two years later, Rep. Martha McSally, herself a former A-10 pilot, said the A-10 was “extremely important to our nation’s national security, whether on the battlefield with ISIS or preventing Russian aggression in Europe.” So it continues to prove its worth.” It is on the border with North Korea. “

Davis-Monthan’s economic impact on Tucson is estimated at $1 billion to $3 billion annually. Under the plan, about 1,000 jobs at the base will be phased out and replaced with replacement squadron slots.

After repeatedly delaying retirement of the Warthog, which was designed 50 years ago to deter the threat of Soviet tanks invading Western Europe, the Air Force is now moving toward retiring it by the end of the 20th century. there is

“This is the end of an era and the beginning of a great new era,” said Robert Medler, executive director of the Southern Arizona Defense League.

That new era is set to begin over the next five years as Davis-Monthan becomes home to a state-of-the-art aircraft with the old-fashioned look of the Air Force Special Operations Command’s newest power projection wing.

The Air Force announced Wednesday that it plans to move the 492nd Special Operations Wing from Hulbert Airfield in Florida to Davis-Monthan pending the results of a final environmental impact analysis. The special operations force will be augmented with new aircraft and personnel from various bases around the country, including squadrons from Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, Army Air Field Pope in North Carolina, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.

“This is just the tip of the spear for the Air Force,” Medler said. “As we have seen in Afghanistan in particular, the use of special operations forces has increased significantly.

Among the new aircraft coming to Tucson is the propeller-powered OA-1K, equipped with Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) technology and hosting a variety of weapons systems capable of providing close air support and precision targeting. It is designed to This small, agile aircraft, known by L3Harris as the AT-802U Sky Warden during its development, is part of the Air Force’s Armed Surveillance Program.

The OA-1K will replace the U-28 Draco fleet.

“This is a phenomenal aircraft,” Medler said.

The Sky Wardens will be the first active Air Force “Tail Dragger” propeller aircraft intended for combat missions since the retirement of the Douglas A-1 Sky Raider 50 years ago.

Based on the Air Tractor, a small weeder, the plane can fly for up to six hours in a 200-nautical-mile combat radius, carry up to 6,000 pounds of cargo, and is built for “rigorous operations,” according to its makers. said.

The DM also welcomes two MC-130J Commando II squadrons. Commandos are designed to carry out covert missions and can drop, pick up and resupply soldiers on the battlefield, as well as refuel helicopters and other aircraft.

This will be the Air Force’s third power projection wing. Officials said the Davis-Monthan base would allow pilots to train in the Barry M. Goldwater Range, which stretches across the desert miles west of Tucson.

In a three-party joint statement Wednesday, Senators Mark Kelly (Democrat) and Senator Kirsten Cinema (Me), as well as Rep. Ruben Gallego (Democrat) and Rep. Juan Ciscomani (Republican), confirmed the decision. He praised them and said he would continue to work hard. This is to ensure the long-term future of DM. “

“Southern Arizona, with its year-round flying climate, vast training range space, and proximity to other military bases, is a natural choice for establishing this Special Operations Wing in the Southwest. , is vital to the ability of the U.S. military to win over enemy nations, and this decision is a positive step toward bringing them to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the next step in the Air Force’s preparation of the base. for this transition,” the press release from the four said.

Significantly, the A-10 was not mentioned by congressional delegations, and the announcement of a new special operations mission has silenced calls to save the plane.

Jay Bickley, chairman of DM50, a local organization of community leaders representing Davis-Monthan, said the new assignment was “a great addition to the station and the local community.” Additionally, we are extremely grateful to the entire Arizona delegation for continuing to work together to secure the future of the DM. ”

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero welcomed the decision.

“Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is an important economic engine for the Tucson community,” said Romero. “We are pleased to welcome the new 492nd Special Forces Powered Projection Wing to the city of Tucson.”

Tucson leaders have long feared that suspending the A-10 squadron would put Davis-Monthan on the list of possible base closures.

Maguire’s 2017 study of the economic impact of military bases in Arizona estimated that Davis Monsan had an overall $3 billion impact on the Tucson economy and created more than 19,000 local jobs. It is Southern Arizona lawmakers, from Republican McSally to Democrats Gabby Giffords, Ron Barber and Ann Kirkpatrick, vehemently opposed the Air Force’s efforts to suspend aging aircraft. McSally at one point claimed that the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act contained a provision mandating “flight” between the A-10 and its successor, the F-35.

Described by McSally as “a terrible plane with a big gun”, the A-10 was designed to provide close air support to troops on the battlefield. First produced in the 1970s, the aircraft is a heavily armored aircraft armed with a 30 mm GAU-8 Avenger rotating cannon with a rate of fire of 3,900 rounds per minute. It can also carry air-to-ground missiles and various smart bombs, and has the ability to take heavy fire while attacking tanks, armored vehicles, and other targets.

Pentagon officials said the A-10’s 40-year-old design has limited capabilities, especially in an era when high-tech battlefield communications have become commonplace. The A-10 doesn’t have the technology to transmit information as quickly and easily as newer jets, they said. The Air Force had previously planned to replace the Warthog with the MQ-9 Reaper, an upgraded version of the F-35 Lightning II and Predator drone.

Davis-Monthan will continue to be home to other missions, including the headquarters of the 12th Air Force, which oversees the command of Air Force operations in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the 563rd Relief Group.

“Rescue and special operations go hand in hand,” Medler said. “Great for the base and community.”

The Air Force has not indicated any plans to cut the 309th Aerospace Sustainability Group’s “aircraft bone factory.”

The A-10 will be stored here as it is decommissioned at DM and other bases. In June, the Air Force announced that F-35s would replace A-10s at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, over the next few years, and F-16s would replace many of the aircraft at ANG Base Gowen Field, Idaho. Some of these planes have already been decommissioned and flown to Tucson for storage.

The Air Force plans to retire 21 A-10s in FY2023 and 42 in FY2024. About 273 A-10s are in service with the U.S. Air Force, Air Force Reserves, and Air National Guard units, and Warthogs are deployed nationwide, not just in South Korea. usa. In recent years, US A-10 units have also been deployed to NATO countries in Eastern Europe.

Overall, the Air Force is considering retiring about 300 aircraft soon, ranging from A-10s and F-15s to B-1 bombers.

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