By John Andrew Prime
The Shreveport Times
July 11, 2012, 5:19 PM
The Air Force Reserve A-10s at Barksdale Air Force Base have gotten a new lease on life, according to a letter Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta sent to lawmakers concerned with cuts and reassignments in the recently proposed defense budget.
"I have directed the Air Force to suspend aircraft transfers and retirements previously scheduled for implementation in (Fiscal Year 2012)" Panetta wrote in a June 22 letter to Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, a combat-wounded World War II veteran who heads the Senate Committee on Appropriations' Defense Subcommittee. The letter was released by lawmakers this week.
Panetta's decision follows concerns and actions by lawmakers from both parties in the wake of the defense budget submitted earlier this year. In Louisiana, that would have dispersed to other squadrons or retired the A-10s from Barksdale's historic 47th Fighter Squadron. It also would shut down Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 77 based at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, the U.S. Navy's only fully dedicated counter-narcotics squadron.
Inouye and full committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., wrote Panetta in early June expressing concerns with the budget, as did Louisiana lawmakers and most of the nation's governors, including Bobby Jindal.
"We're still awaiting a final determination," said Col. John Breazeale, commander of the 917th Fighter Group, under which the 47th Fighter Squadron operates. Senior leadership, seven unit aircraft and their pilots and more than 100 other unit personnel are in Hawaii through early August taking part in RIMPAC 2012, a major exercise involving people and platforms from almost two dozen nations. "The language from the House and the Senate, and the latest directive that we're getting, is that the decision will be delayed and it's not going to happen in FY '13. It's under review."
Both House and Senate versions of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act would reject or defer Air Force force structure adjustments and also would authorize an additional $1.4 billion offset.
The Senate Armed Services Committee report urged the Air Force to suspend all force structure adjustments until October 2013 and the bill it endorsed also would prohibit any funding to enact force structure changes. That would prevent the transfer of around 150 aircraft and the retirement of almost 100 others.
Panetta cautioned about the effects uncertainty over funding and casing could have on troops and that delaying action will make future budget deliberations more difficult. Local military observers applauded the decision.
"I think its great they've put a stay on that premature retirement of the A-10s out at Barksdale," said retired Brig. Gen. Peyton Cole, 2nd Bomb Wing commander from 1992 to 1994. A former Pentagon legislative liaison, he recalled a previous move to retire the hardy airplanes just before the first Gulf War, in which they proved to be a remarkably useful and versatile weapon. "I think the A-10 is a viable airplane and will remain viable. We need to retain it."