Winslow Wheeler: Stop the Assassination of the A-10

Corruption, Government, Military
Winslow Wheeler
Winslow Wheeler

Usually ignored by the press as insufficiently interesting to technology dazzled editors and reviled by the civilian and military leadership of the Air Force as not what they think they should spend money and careers on, the A-10 “Warthog” has broken through into Washington DC’s consciousness.  Interestingly, the attention was provoked by a heavy handed effort by the Air Force to wipe out the entire remaining fleet of approximately 350 A-10 close air support aircraft in order to plough the money saved into “higher priority” programs, most specifically the F-35.

Five articles in major national or regional news media just this week make painfully obvious that in attempting to get rid of the A-10, the Air Force has kicked itself into a hornet’s nest.  Most importantly, the growing controversy is revealing that in warfare since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the A-10 has performed spectacularly well, significantly better than other more complex and costly aircraft, in its primary mission (helping Soldiers and Marines fight on the ground) and it performs–equally well–missions for which it was not originally intended.

The issues go to the very nature of the Air Force, how to fight effectively in the twenty-first century, and what kinds of weapons should be bought (and how to buy them).

These issue will be the focus of a seminar tomorrow (Friday): “Close Air Support with and without the A-10: Will US Troops Get the Help They Need?” sponsored by the Straus Military Reform Project and the Project On Government Oversight.  It’s located at the Carnegie building at 1779 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, very near the DuPont Circle (South) Metro stop. Sessions will start at 9:30, lasting until 3:30. 

Find details (Speakers and their bios, specific issues to be addressed and more) at http://www.pogo.org/our-work/straus-military-reform-project/weapons/2013/a-seminar-on-combat-effectiveness.html.

We hope to see you there.  Below are the five articles and their links discussed above.
Swampland.Time.com
November 20, 2013

War Over the Warthogs

Air Force and Congress fighting over plan to ground soldiers’ favorite warplane

By Mark Thompson

It’s old, it’s slow, it’s ugly, and-unlike a Swiss army knife-the Air’s Force’s A-10 Thunderbolt II can only do one thing: help grunts on the ground. So think of it as the military equivalent of Grandma’s tarnished turkey-carving knife that only comes out at Thanksgiving. It does a fine job on the old bird, but can a cash-strapped Air Force afford to keep the A-10 flying when its sole mission is to save the lives of U.S. troops in trouble?

As the Pentagon’s budget vise squeezes the Air Force, it is considering a decision to ground its 326 A-10s forever to save money, including $3.5 billion between 2015 and 2019. The idea has triggered a dogfight between the Air Force and A-10 backers on Capitol Hill.

Ground-pounders are caught in the crosshairs. “As an Army guy, I will tell you, the A-10s are very close to the Army, and we’re wondering what will do that mission,” General Frank Grass, the National Guard chief, said Tuesday. “But when the nation cannot afford the force it has today, something has to go.”

The notion is painful to the Air Force’s top officer who spent 1,000 of his early flight hours piloting A-10s. “If we have platforms that can do multiple missions well, and maybe not do one as well as another airplane.the airplane that is limited to a specific type of mission area becomes the one most at risk,” General Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, told the House Armed Services Committee in September. “I think there’s some logic to this that’s hard for us to avoid, no matter how much I happen to love the airplane.”

While soldiers love the airplane they call the Warthog, they’ll get over it, the Air Force’s top warfighter believes. “If a bad guy goes away,” said General Mike Hostage, chief of Air Combat Command, “the Army’s not going to argue about how it went away.”

The Air Force would eventually fill much of the A-10’s troop-support mission with its new F-35 fighter, which has been plagued by problems and cost overruns. “The Air Force is growing increasingly desperate to eliminate competition in its force structure to the F-35,” says weapons-watcher Winslow Wheeler, who spent 30 years monitoring Pentagon procurement on Capitol Hill and at the Government Accountability Office, and now runs the nonprofit Straus Military Reform Project. If the Air Force prevails, “the biggest cost will be in the Defense Department’s ability to support soldiers and Marines engaged in close combat on the ground-a mission no aircraft can perform as well as the A-10.” Other Air Force planes that the service says could be tapped to help ground troops include the AC-130, F-15E, F-16, B-1 and B-52.

In contrast to the F-35’s woes, the A-10 stands as a poster child on how the nation should buy its weapons.

“Close attention to key mission characteristics (lethality, survivability, responsiveness, and simplicity) allowed the concept formulation and subsequent system design to result in an effective close-air support aircraft, and design-to-cost goals kept the government and contractor [Fairchild Republic] focused on meeting the critical requirements at an affordable cost,” a candid 2010 Air Force report said. “The A-10 did not meet all its cost goals, but it came much closer to them than most major defense development programs did in that time frame or since then.”

The A-10’s titanium-clad cockpit and self-sealing fuel cells protects its lone pilot. Manual flight controls back up its hydraulic system. These give the A-10 pilot the confidence to fly low and slow to take out enemy armor or troops with the eye-watering seven-barrel GAU-8 Gatling gun protruding from under its nose.

It made its combat debut in the 1991 Gulf War, where it flew more than 8,000 sorties while destroying a big chunk of the Iraqi military: 987 tanks, 926 artillery pieces, 501 armored personnel carriers, and 1,106 trucks. Only six A-10s were lost. It has since flown in action over Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, again. Tales like this have made it the grunts’ best friend.

“The A-10 was somewhat forced on a reluctant Air Force by the needs of the Army,” that 2010 Air Force report said. “The Air Force believed that fighters that were not otherwise engaged could take on close-air support when needed.” The Army disagreed: it “needed an aircraft that could carry a great amount of ordnance, loiter in the area for some time with excellent maneuverability, and had the ability to take hits from enemy ground fire.” Ultimately, the Air Force agreed to field the A-10, many experts believe, “to keep the Army from taking over the close-air support mission.”

Last week, 35 lawmakers told Pentagon leaders they would “oppose any effort” by the Air Force to ground its A-10s beginning next fall because it would “unnecessarily endanger our service members in future conflicts.”

One of the leaders of the effort is Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., a member of the armed services committee. “Many soldiers and Marines are alive today because of the unique capabilities of the A-10, as well as the focused close-air support training and dedicated close-air support culture of A-10 pilots,” the lawmakers’ Nov. 13 letter said. Ayotte should know: her husband, Joe Daley, flew A-10s in the first Gulf War.

In some ways, the F-35’s woes could be the A-10’s salvation. Ayotte is readying an amendment that would order the Air Force to keep its A-10s flying until its F-35s are fully operational. That’s currently slated to happen in 2021.

The Air Force, apparently, isn’t taking any chances. On Tuesday, the Northrop Grumman Corp. announced it had landed Air Force contracts totaling $24 million “required to keep the A-10 weapon system viable through 2028 and beyond.”

DefenseNews.com
November 21, 2013

Northrop Awarded A-10 Sustainment Contract

By AARON MEHTA


WASHINGTON – The US Air Force may be planning to cut the A-10 Thunderbolt, but that doesn’t mean it plans to stop upkeep of its current fleet.

The service picked up a pair of task orders for maintenance and support this week, awarding nearly $24 million to contractor Northrop Grumman. The task orders were part of an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract vehicle awarded in 2009.

“Northrop Grumman is proud to continue to support the Air Force’s premier ground attack aircraft,” John Parker, director of Northrop’s global logistics and modernization business unit, said in a news release. “Our focus is to always provide our customer with the highest level of engineering services possible to ensure superior program performance. We look forward to continuing our work with the Air Force and the A-10 Thunderbolt.”

The Air Force has been clear for months that if sequestration remains the law of the land, it will have to make “vertical cuts” – the removal of entire platforms from the fleet – to fund its key modernization and readiness priorities. Those cuts are likely to come from fleets that are single-mission, with the A-10 being openly discussed by service officials as on the chopping block.

Supporters of the A-10 argue that the plane is the most effective close-air support platform in the fleet, with distinguished actions over the past decade that saved the lives of troops on the ground. Critics point out that the plane will have limited versatility as the service pivots toward the Pacific, and say that jets such as the F-35 can fill that mission adequately without being single-mission platforms.

There are 346 A-10 aircraft in the inventory, according to Air Force statistics. About half of the A-10 fleet resides in the Air National Guard. An Air Force proposal to cut five A-10 squadrons last year faced stiff opposition in Congress and from state governors.

Congress has already begun throwing up roadblocks in the way of potential A-10 cuts, with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., filing an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act to protect the platform.

There are no A-10s based in New Hampshire. Aides say Ayotte, whose husband is a former A-10 pilot, is concerned that the Air Force is moving to retire the attack planes before a suitable replacement aircraft is fielded.

Ayotte’s amendment essentially would delay the retirement plan by slapping on a slew of time-consuming – but not difficult – certification requirements. In a large bureaucracy, such things can take time to bounce around the involved offices and then up to service leaders.

The amendment, if adopted by the chamber and then a House-Senate conference committee, would hold up the release of funds for A-10 retirement plans until the Air Force secretary delivers a number of certifications, including a number of technical milestones for the F-35A not expected until the end of the decade.

John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times
November 20, 2013

‘Warthog’ in the Line of Fire

The Pentagon targets the Cold War-era plane for retirement amid budget cuts

By W.J. Hennigan

The A-10 Thunderbolt II, a snub-nosed ground-attack plane nicknamed the “Warthog,” is the latest aircraft to find its way onto the Pentagon’s endangered weapons list.

Outfitted with a seven-barrel Gatling gun the size of a Volkswagen Beetle in its nose, the Cold War-era plane has a reputation for tearing apart armored tanks and clearing the way for troops on the ground with its massive 30-millimeter rounds of ammunition.

But the unsightly plane has been in the cross hairs of Pentagon officials in recent years. The Air Force — better known for aerial dogfights and dropping GPS-guided bombs — would rather invest its diminishing funds elsewhere. With billions of dollars in budget cuts and a possible second round of sequestration looming, the military faces tough decisions: keep funding proven planes of the past or invest in high-tech 21st-century weapons.

The Pentagon has yet to release its latest budget or officially signal that the Warthogs are on a kill list. But last month, the Air Force disclosed that eliminating the fleet of 326 aircraft would save it about $3.5 billion over five years.

But taking no chances, A-10 supporters in Congress rushed to offer an amendment this week to the National Defense Authorization Act that would effectively prohibit any additional A-10 retirements until 2021 or later.
Last week, 33 lawmakers wrote a letter to the U.S. secretary of Defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to express “deep concern” about retiring the A-10.

Last month, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, blocked the confirmation of the White House nominee for Air Force secretary until she received answers about the plane’s fate.

There’s even a Facebook group called Save the A-10 that was created in August and has garnered more than 4,000 supporters.

The situation serves as a harbinger of the battles to come in an age of budget austerity. The military says it must slash, or “divest,” its older arsenal to save money. But because these entrenched programs support troops and provide thousands of jobs across many states, Congress has continually come to their rescue.

The Pentagon already faces budget cuts of $487 billion over 10 years, and now it must cope with the threat of an additional $500 billion in cuts because of sequestration. The military services are going through an unprecedented process of developing two budgets for 2015 — one with sequestration and one without.

Sequestration cuts would reduce Pentagon spending $52 billion next year. When it comes to programs such as the A-10, some in Congress believe that there are better places to cut.

“It would be unconscionable to further cut an asset like the A-10 for budget reasons — increasing the risks our service members confront in ground combat — when equivalent savings could be achieved elsewhere in the Air Force budget without reducing operational capabilities,” said the bipartisan letter sent to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

The Air Force spends millions of dollars on “conferences, air shows and bloated headquarters staffs,” the letter said.

But major savings — measured in billions rather than millions of dollars — can be made only by cutting an entire fleet, the Air Force has said. That way, the infrastructure that supports the fleet can also be cut, which encompasses thousands of jobs.

The A-10 program also supports 6,000 jobs in the Air National Guard, which flies 90 A-10s in five states. Guard officials have expressed dismay at the prospect of killing the plane.

No one calls into question the A-10’s success at close-air support. The plane is considered one of the best at directly protecting troops on the ground. Pilots do that by laying down fire on enemy tanks, vehicles and strongholds with its high-powered Gatling gun.

The A-10 was designed by Fairchild-Republic in the 1970s around the gun — the heaviest rotary cannon ever mounted on an aircraft. Pilots can shoot short bursts that unleash 140 rounds of ammunition in two seconds. To do so, the plane must fly low and slow over the battlefield, making it susceptible to ground fire.

But the plane is designed to keep flying even if parts of the wing or one of its engines has been blown to shreds. And the cockpit is surrounded by a bullet-resistant titanium tub. The aircraft has been routinely upgraded over the years.

“The idea is the pilot in the cockpit faces the same threats as the guy in the foxhole,” said Pierre Sprey, an aeronautical engineer who helped design the F-16 and A-10. “They’re in the same fight, and direct contact with one another the whole way through.”

That could be seen in July when two A-10s flying out of Afghanistan’s Bagram air base protected 60 soldiers who were ambushed after their lead vehicle turned over during a patrol in Afghanistan. As the soldiers lay pinned behind their vehicles, taking fire, the A-10s rained down bullets and bombs until the combatants gave up.

This month, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the “A-10 is the best close-air support platform we have today.”

As good as the A-10 is in close-air support, the military classifies it as a single-role aircraft. That’s the problem. Going forward, the Air Force has said it wants to rid itself of one-mission planes in favor of a fleet of multi-role aircraft. These jack-of-all-trades aircraft can blast apart enemies on the ground and in the sky.

The A-10 can’t dogfight. It’s not stealthy. It’s not supersonic.

“The Air Force never wanted the A-10, and they’ve been trying to get rid of it for years,” said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a website for military policy research. “They are manly men and they want jets that shoot down other jets — even though the last time they had an ace was Vietnam.”

The A-10 replacement is the upcoming F-35 fighter jet. Known as the Joint Strike Fighter, the nearly $400-billion program for more than 2,400 jets is centered around a plan to develop a fighter plane that could — with a few tweaks — be used by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

The idea is that it can take off and land on runways and aircraft carriers, as well as hover like a helicopter. No single fighter aircraft has had all those capabilities. And it is expensive. At $35,200, the F-35’s cost per flying hour is twice as much as the A-10’s, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Though few people believe that the F-35 will ultimately be able to provide close-air support as well as the A-10, the F-35 certainly falls under the Air Force’s definition of “multi-role.”

Therein lies the dilemma, said Todd Harrison, a defense analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. If budgets are going to be cut severely, where are the cuts going to come from: expensive new weapons that can carry out more missions, or aging, less-complex weapons?

The F-35 provides 127,000 direct and indirect jobs in 47 states and Puerto Rico. Someone is sure to be upset if there’s a proposal to buy fewer of the planes, Harrison said.

“Everyone knows there needs to be cuts, but few people in Congress are brave enough to actually make them,” he said. “Bottom line is there are going to be a lot of angry people in Congress — no matter what.”
Medium.com/War-Is-Boring
November 19, 2013

Dave Majumdar in War is Boring

Pilots Plan Tomorrow’s A-10

What would a next-generation replacement for the legendary attack jet look like?

S
hort on cash and determined to prioritize new stealth warplanes, the U.S. Air Force is busily trying to rid itself of all 350 of its slow- and low-flying A-10 Warthog attack planes-this despite the heavily-armed twin-engine jet’s impressive combat record stretching back to the 1991 Gulf War.

But the flying branch still needs to support American troops on the ground-the Warthog’s raison d’etre. With that in mind, around 20 highly experienced A-10 pilots and engineers are working on unofficial specifications for a successor to the Warthog.

The group started off with using the original A-X program requirements that resulted in the Warthog starting nearly 50 years ago. Even though technology has advanced since the 1960s, the fundamentals of what is required for the close air support mission have not changed.

“There is a lot that can be made better than the A-10,” says Pierre Sprey, a former Pentagon official and aerospace engineer who originated the Warthog concept. “There is simply no question that we can make it better. The airplane was in a lot of ways a disappointment to me because of where it came out.”

That said, the A-10 is by far the most survivable aircraft for the low-altitude, low speed CAS mission. But almost every aspect of the A-10 can be vastly improved using modern materials and construction techniques, Sprey says.

But be careful! The key to producing a new warplane quickly, on time and to budget is to use the best existing tech rather than trying to invent entirely new hardware and software.

Matching the Warthog

The basic requirements for a “Warthog 2.0” are that it retains the Warthog’s current capabilities. “These are the things we hold as the minimum requirements going forward in kind of a follow-on CAS platform,” says one of the two A-10 pilots leading the group behind the prospective Warthog replacement project. “The slow speed and tight turn radius is what allows us to get below the weather and have a rapid rate of re-attack especially with the flexibility of the gun.”

As such, in a next-generation CAS aircraft, the pilot must have good visibility-which is why a round, expansive “bubble” canopy is crucial. “In an air-to-ground mode, being able to look out over your shoulder and behind you-not at threats, but the ground you just attacked or to keep an eye on the friendlies is a critical capability,” the A-10 pilot says.

Because CAS missions often take place at very low altitudes and low airspeeds-anywhere from 150 knots to 300 knots-the aircraft must be able to perform a two-G sustained turn at a rate of five degrees per second with a turn radius of no more than 2,000 feet.

The instantaneous turn rate – that is, how quickly a plane can wheel around in the first few seconds of a maneuver-would have to be better than 20 degrees per second while pulling six Gs. The aircraft must also be able to remain less than one mile from a target between attacks while pulling no more than two Gs-except for the roll-in to the attack and the time it’s leaving the area.

“The tight turn is important so that we can not only operate in a narrow valley if we need to, but lets says it’s reduced visibility, and we’re kinda poking our way through that visibility, the ability to do that slowly and being able to turn when you see a big hill coming is important,” the pilot says.

But one of the A-10’s major shortcomings is its anemic twin General Electric TF-34 turbofan engines. A follow-on aircraft must have a lot more thrust.

“The number-one problem with the A-10 is that we’re underpowered,” according to the pilot. “We need a way to get our airspeed back quicker and we need the ability to take-off at max gross weight at high-density altitudes.”

The A-10 cannot take off at its maximum weight in Afghanistan and must either off-load weapons or fuel. The next-generation aircraft must be able climb out of a runway at maximum gross weight at a rate of the 4,000 feet per minute at a density altitude of 20,000 feet.

Further, it must be able to operate out of a 3,000-foot runway at sea-level with a full fuel load and an internal gun. Ideally, it should be able to operate out of austere 1,500-foot runways.

A cruise speed of at least 360 knots is desirable, a pilot says. Initially, the group believed that it would be best for a next-gen aircraft to cruise at 480 knots with a dash speed of 540 knots. However, with Sprey’s input, the team came to the conclusion that such a requirement would be aerodynamically incompatible with a tight turn radius at low airspeed.

“What we need and don’t have is the capability to rapidly get airspeed back after an attack,” the pilot says. “Also, while airspeed can help response time, it’s loiter time that really makes response faster because it allows you to be at the battlefield, ready to attack.”

Thus, the prospective aircraft needs to have a minimum combat radius of 150 nautical miles with at least four hours on station time with internal fuel, the pilot explains.


Arming the new plane

The new aircraft would have to be able to make a minimum of 20 attacks on infantry targets or 11 attacks on tanks during a single sortie. With precision-guided rockets, the new aircraft could potentially increase those numbers by an order of magnitude.

Additionally, the Warthog 2.0 would also need to be able to track and kill moving targets from ranges greater than eight nautical miles while flying at altitudes above 20,000 feet.

To accomplish this the new aircraft would need to carry 15,000 pounds of weapons ranging from general purpose unguided bombs to cluster munitions, laser-guided bombs and GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions.

It would also have to be able to fire 2.75-inch rockets-ideally something like the laser-guided Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System-plus at least six anti-tank missiles similar to today’s Maverick.

The aircraft would also need to be able to carry both versions of the 250-pound Small Diameter Bomb and potentially the AIM-9X air-to-air missile for self-defense. Ideally, it could be fitted with the AIM-120 radar-guided air-to-air missile, as well-but that’s not necessarily crucial.

But it is imperative that the aircraft carry a gun similar to the General Electric GAU-8 30-millimeter cannon installed on the A-10.

In terms of avionics, a next-generation aircraft would have to have all of the capabilities found on the modernized A-10C. The upgraded Warthog already has advanced data-links including the Situation Awareness Data Link and Variable Message Format link. It also has a direction finder to zero in on and interrogate pilot survival radios.

The new aircraft should have better terrain avoidance systems and improved displays in the cockpit. It should also be equipped with a better targeting pod, such as a Litening Gen IV or another such system with a video data-link.

The new aircraft would also need to retain a helmet-mounted display capability similar or better than the Thales Genetex Scorpion that is currently mounted on the A-10.

In a perfect world, the Warthog 2.0 would also have a 360-degree infrared sensor capability and a terrain following radar. It would be fitted with a next-gen data-link, the pilot says.

In terms of survivability, any next-generation CAS aircraft must have two engines and multiple redundant systems that can take a number of hits, the pilot points out. The aircraft must be able to withstand impacts from small arms such as 7.62-millimeter and 14.5-millimeter machine guns and even 23-millimeter cannon fire.

It should also be able survive a hit from a man-portable air-defense missile like the SA-18.

The Warthog 2.0 should be equipped with advanced missile warning sensors and the latest digital radio frequency memory jammers to elude the larger and more capable surface-to-air missiles such as the SA-19. “We want to be able to defeat the latest, greatest, common SAMs we might encounter on the battlefield,” the pilot says.

The A-10 pilot cautions that many of the items on the wish list are placeholders. Some of the capabilities might not be compatible with an affordable and effective aircraft design-though the goal would be to field a plane with a unit price of less than $20 million and costing less than $15,000 per flight hour to operate.

Of course, instead of developing a new plane to succeed the A-10, the Air Force could simply keep the Warthogs it’s got.

Arizona Daily Star

Steller: Flake, McCain missing on A-10 issue

November 20, 2013 12:00 am  .  By Tim Stelle

U.S. Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain have had two chances in the last week to state their support for the continued existence of the A-10, the mainstay of Tucson’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

They didn’t take either one.

The reasons why aren’t perfectly clear, but chances are they relate to the Air Force’s new, budget-busting F-35 – and in a roundabout way, bring us back to the old Phoenix-Tucson rivalry. Guess who’s winning?

When U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., wrote a letter to the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last week, objecting to proposals to retire the A-10, only one member of Arizona’s congressional delegation signed on – U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, the Tucson Democrat who represents D-M.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Ann Kirkpatrick, who also represent the Tucson area, did not sign the letter.

This week, Ayotte introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would prohibit the Air Force from retiring the A-10 until the F-35, its planned replacement, has shown it is able to fulfill the role of providing close air support to combat forces on the ground. When I asked spokesmen for Flake and McCain Tuesday whether they support the amendment, which is expected to be considered on the floor of the Senate this week, neither one committed.

“Senator Flake is reviewing the amendment,” his spokeswoman, Genevieve Rozansky, told me by email.

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers was more expansive: “As it is forced to consider how to reduce costs in this new budgetary environment, Senator McCain has asked the Air Force to justify any force structure changes it may make and explain the impacts of divesting certain systems. He is committed to making sure that, whatever force structure changes the Air Force makes, the Defense Department remains capable of providing our soldiers and Marines in combat with the ‘close air support’ they need, which is the capability that the A-10 has so ably provided to date.”

Of course, that’s exactly what Ayotte’s amendment was intended to do. It requires the Air Force secretary to certify that the F-35A is fully operational and able to perform close air support, the A-10’s primary role, before allowing the Air Force to retire the A-10.

So what gives?

In all likelihood, it’s all about the F-35. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive weapons system in U.S. military history, and it’s intended to replace the A-10 and other aircraft.

Phoenix scored a coup last summer when the Air Force chose to base three squadrons of F-35s at Luke Air Force Base. It meant a big investment in re-fitting the base and, perhaps more importantly, an indefinite lease on life for Luke.

Some in Tucson have campaigned vigorously for the F-35 to be based at D-M, but others say it is simply too loud to operate in this urban environment.

For members of Congress such as Flake and McCain, who hope to convince Air Force officials to send more F-35 missions to Arizona, it could be risky to criticize the program by publicly proclaiming it’s not up to replacing the old, dependable A-10.

In Congress, “that logic is pervasive,” said Winslow Wheeler, the head of the Straus Military Reform Project, part of the Washington, D.C.-based Project on Government Oversight. “You don’t want to piss them off, or they’ll feel less enthusiastic about porking up your state.”

Coincidentally, Wheeler’s group is hosting a conference on threats to the A-10 this weekend in Washington, D.C.

The problem facing those who support the A-10 is that the Air Force has a limited budget and the sequester is forcing further cuts.

“The Air Force only has budget for so many airplanes, and its top priority is the F-35,” Wheeler said. “It’s happy to push other airplanes out of the force structure to cough up money to help the F-35.”

So for politicians like Flake and McCain, there are risks in offending the Air Force, and there are also broader political considerations. Why would they stick their necks out for an aging aircraft based in the Tucson area, population 1 million, when they can prioritize a new aircraft system based in the Phoenix area, population 4 million?

Of course the calculations aren’t strictly political. Ayotte, whose husband was an A-10 pilot, doesn’t represent areas where the A-10 is based. She’s making her arguments on the basis that the A-10 is simply a better vehicle for close air support than is otherwise available.

Our arguments in Tucson include that, but also are more provincial. Davis-Monthan has been an anchor of our local economy for decades, and the A-10 is its central function for now. D-M was Southern Arizona’s third-largest employer at the end of 2012, with about 9,100 full-time-employee equivalents, the Star 200 reported.

So, senators, we’re fighting a rear-guard action in Tucson, as the A-10 lives out its useful life, which could go on for a decade or more. Excuse us if we ask you to join the fight.