Representative Martha McSally, R-Az., an Air Force veteran, launched into the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing in the Capitol after they testified that manning levels were too low and budget cuts were too high. According to a story posted at Air Force Times, McSally called their logic the "newest excuse" for prematurely retiring the venerable A-10 "Warthog" attack aircraft, and she questioned if it wouldn't be wiser to cut non-essential personnel like "the hundreds of people playing tuba and clarinet."
"If we really had a manning crisis, from my perspective, we would really tell people to put down the tuba and pick up a wrench or a gun," McSally said during the hearing. "But we're not at that place, and I'm just concerned over these conflicting statements."
"We've mothballed the equivalent of four A-10 squadrons since 2012, we have only nine remaining, and there are actually less airplanes in them than we used to have," McSally said.
"It's not just a platform issue, it's a training issue," Gen. Joseph Dunford, CJCS, replied. "As the advocate for close-air support and joint capabilities, I absolutely believe we need a transition plan, and there needs to be a replacement for the A-10 before it goes away."
"We need a fifth-generation fighter, but when it comes to close-air support, the F-35 having shortfalls in loiter time, lethality, weapons load, the ability to take a direct hit, to fly close combat ... and ... needs evaluation," she said.
McSally knows a thing or two about the topic of military aviation. She graduated from the Air Force Academy and then spent 22 years serving as an attack pilot, including commanding an A-10 squadron. In 2001 she famously sued DoD over the policy of making female service members wear veils while stationed in Saudi Arabia. She retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel and spent a year as a college professor in Germany before running for Congress. She lost a close race for Arizona's 8th Congressional District in 2012, and then won a close race two years later.
And, for the record, the Air Force says it currently has about 540 enlisted airmen and 20 officers assigned to band billets.