In a recent interview for Air Force Times, the head of Air Combat Command, Gen. Michael Hostage, paints a bleak picture for the future of two of Oppo's favorite aircraft, the A-10 and the U-2. It looks like the A-10 will, in fact, be going away, and that politics will effectively kill the U-2's combat missions.
According to Gen. Hostage, the A-10 will be the victim of budget cuts and the ability to do the A-10's job with other systems, which led to some very "hard choices."
We talked specifically about the A-10, a weapon system I would dearly love to continue in the inventory because there are tactical problems out there that would be perfectly suited for the A-10. I have other ways to solve that tactical problem.
It may not be as elegant as the A-10, but I can still get the job done, but that solution is usable in another level of conflict in which the A-10 is totally useless.
The only way for Gen. Hostage to truly save the money he needs to save is to cut the A-10 entirely, as it makes no sense to maintain half a fleet of aircraft, as the cost of support and training will still be significant. The 188th Fighter Wing at Ebbing AFB in Arkansas recently flew their final manned night training mission. They will be transitioning to flying ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) with the Reaper drone. And that's got to be a bitter pill for the pilots who joined the USAF to fly planes.
The fate of the U-2's combat role seems sealed by political pressure, as Gen. Hostage says they are "being driven by politics" to adopt the Global Hawk, a very expensive system.
It appears that I will be told I have to continue to purchase Global Hawks, and given the budget picture that we have, I cannot afford both the U-2 and the Global Hawk. I will likely have to give up the U-2. What that means is that we are going to have to spend buckets of money to get the Global Hawk up to some semblance of capability that the U-2 currently has. It is going to cost a lot of money, and it is going to take time, and as I lose the U-2 fleet, I now have a high-altitude ISR fleet that is not very useful in a contested environment. It will change how I am able to employ that airplane in a high-end fight or a contested domain.
And all of this is tied directly to the fiscal pressures of the F-35 and the F-22. Gen. Hostage discusses those systems, and says that he will fight tooth and nail for the F-35, as he needs a fifth-generation fighter that will compete with the latest systems of our adversaries. But you can't have the F-35 without the F-22, and the F-22 needs significant upgrades to its computer systems.
That is why the current upgrade programs to the F-22 I put easily as critical as my F-35 fleet. If I do not keep that F-22 fleet viable, the F-35 fleet frankly will be irrelevant. The F-35 is not built as an air superiority platform.
It's a fascinating interview, one that should be read in its entirety. I don't envy the general's job, but it sounds like he's trying to play the strongest game he can with the hand he's been dealt.