TUCSON, ARIZ. — The future of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is up in the air after the recent disclosure of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s proposed spending plan.
The Arizona Republic reports that Hagel’s announcement on Monday to shrink the Army and reshape forces includes a proposal to retire the Air Force’s fleet of A-10 “Warthog” tank-killer planes.
The Tucson base has been the training ground for A-10 fighter pilots since 1976 and is considered the primary mission. Ramon Valadez, a Pima County supervisor whose district includes Davis-Monthan, said “the implications are actually very, very significant and almost extreme” if Congress grounds the program.
Defense officials say the move could mean an estimated savings of $3.5 billion over five years. Hagel said he is targeting the A-10 as well as the 50-year-old U-2 spy plane because there are modern alternatives.
“The A-10 is a 40-year-old, single-purpose airplane originally designed to kill enemy tanks on a Cold War battlefield,” Hagel said Monday during a news conference at the Pentagon. “It cannot survive or operate effectively where there are more advanced aircraft or air defenses.”
Leaders in Tucson’s political and business communities have lobbied Congress to block the fleet’s grounding.
Michael Grassinger, a member of the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance’s coordinating committee, says group representatives met with federal officials in Washington in October and plan another lobbying trip next month.
“At this point, they feel that they have a pretty good movement toward not closing down the A-10,” Grassinger said. “We won’t know until it really gets in front of Congress whether or not there’s the votes to move it forward or to take that part out of it.”
According to Grassinger, the A-10 will likely be needed for at least another five to 15 years until more F-35 fighters are made.
Lt. Erin Ranaweera, Davis-Monthan spokeswoman, says personnel are awaiting a final decision from the Pentagon, which may not come until fall.
Hagel wants to slash the military budget by more than $75 billion to meet a two-year budget agreement made by the president and Congress.
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona says more information about the proposal is needed.
“I am still waiting to hear from Air Force that it has a viable alternative to the A-10,” Flake told The Republic. “Absent that, Secretary Hagel’s plan to retire the aircraft would appear to be premature.”
More than 7,500 military personnel and more than 3,300 civilians work at the base, according to a 2012 economic impact analysis. An Air Force report estimates the base’s economic impact on southern Arizona is upward of $1.1 billion.
Valadez said the base could be useful in other ways if it ends up having to park the A-10 fleet in its airplane-storage complex, known as the boneyard.
“What we’ve been trying to work on is trying to express our openness for other missions at D-M as well,” Valadez said. “We have to be open to any mission the Air Force is willing to place at Davis-Monthan.”