The battle to kill the A-10

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The Air Force is on the attack to eliminate the beloved A-10, insisting that the venerable Warthog is not the only airframe up to the close-air support task.

To press the point, service leaders showcased a group of fighter pilots, who described their CAS missions in other aircraft. But opponents on Capitol Hill, and troops on the ground, aren’t having it, and the service faces an uphill battle to cut the jet and bring its beleaguered F-35 online in time.

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Analysts predict A-10, U-2 retirements in FY15

Some of the US Air Force’s most venerable aircraft will likely head to the boneyard in fiscal year 2015, victims of projected military funding cuts, budget analysts predict.
Lockheed U-2s, Fairchild Republic A-10s, McDonnell Douglas KC-10 tankers and Beechcraft MC-12 surveillance turboprops will likely be retired next year, says Mackenzie Eaglen from public policy group American Enterprise Institute.

“I expect all of those to be near entirely retired, or most of the fleets,” Eaglen says on 6 February at a defence conference in New York City hosted by investment company Cowen Group.

The Defense Department has so far avoided widespread aircraft retirements because Congressional spending bills in fiscal years 2013 and 2014 have largely mitigated the wider cuts known as the sequester, she notes.
But wider budget slashing is expected in coming years, likely forcing the Defense Department to retire entire aircraft fleets, she says. Eaglen notes that the USAF “completely folded” to political pressure against the service’s desire to retire its Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawks.
“They are done,” Eaglen says of the USAF’s efforts. “They are not going to fight it anymore. It’s over.”
USAF officials have said Block 30 Global Hawks cost more to develop and sustain than flying U-2s. Unmanned Block 30s cost $6,710 hourly, while manned U-2’s cost $2,380, according to the air force’s total ownership cost database.
Todd Harrison from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments told conference attendees that the “sheer size” of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme makes it a target.
Not that the programme will be cancelled, but the Defense Department could cut orders, he says. The budget will likely prevent other new projects from advancing, and those behind schedule risk cancellation, adds Harrison.
SOME GOOD NEWS: CRH
Eaglen notes the fiscal year 2014 budget bill “elevated” the $7 billion combat rescue helicopter (CRH) programme, which calls for 112 aircraft over 14 years, to a “special interest item.” That’s likely a veiled Congressional request for the Defense Department to include CRH funding in next year’s budget proposal, which the White House plans to release on 4 March, says Eaglen. 
Sikorsky, with partner Lockheed Martin, is the only CRH bidder and has proposed the CRH-60, a modified version of Sikorsky’s UH-60M Black Hawk. Despite receiving more than $300 million in fiscal year 2014 for the project, Sikorsky and the USAF say CRH depends on future years’ funding.
UNIQUE DOWNTURN
Analysts say the current budget cycle is different than previous cycles. The defence booms leading to the Korean and Vietnam wars left the US military with more troops and flush with new, modern equipment, says Harrison.
When those booms ended, troop levels and procurement declined, he notes. But the number of active US military personnel remained roughly flat during the spending boom of the 2000s, Harrison notes. And much of the military’s investment during the buildup was for what Harrison calls “expendable” equipment, like mine–resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs) used in Iraq.
The Pentagon is now reportedly shredding up to 2,000 MRAPs rather than ship them back, Harrison notes. Much of the spending also paid for “consumables” like fuel and food for troops, Eaglen adds.
“We are starting with a military that is about the same size as it was when the buildup began, and we are starting with a military that did not recapitalise,” says Harrison. “We are smaller, we are older and we are just more expensive… That’s the big problem here.”

C-23: Time to Say Goodbye

The sounds of the C-23 Sherpa are now a thing of the past as the Army National Guard bids farewell to the venerable aircraft after two decades of service. The box shaped aircraft described by many as a “work horse” is now heading into retirement. 

Throughout its operations in the Army Guard, the Sherpa has been used in response to natural disasters and war missions, said Army Maj. Matthew Moore, chief of future operations with the Operational Support Airlift Agency, adding that it was also a widely used aircraft to support parachute-drop training missions for all components of the Army and special operations organizations.

The Sherpa, a fixed wing aircraft, was introduced to the Army Guard in the early 1990′s and has been flown in countless missions in both stateside and overseas operations, including the 1991 Gulf War and more recently during operations in Iraq.
“The C-23 provided limited rear support during the Persian Gulf War,” said Moore. “However, it saw continued action from 2003 through 2011 in Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn, often moving half-a-million pounds of cargo a month.”
The aircraft has seen continued use in other missions as well including in Egypt as part of the Multi-national Force and Observers peacekeeping mission.
“I was fortunate enough to ferry the first C-23 through Israel to El Gorah, Egypt,” said Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Clarence Shockley, an instructor pilot and instrument examiner for the OSAA, adding that the mission was two-fold: first to use the C-23 as an observation platform for the MFO observers to monitor military activity on the Sinai to ensure compliance with the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, and, second, to provide transportation to personnel and cargo from different locations throughout the region.
The Sherpa was no stranger to disaster response or providing assistance to other countries around the world.
“The C-23 provided disaster relief during hurricanes, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, forest fires, flooding, blizzards and the earthquake in Haiti, and was also used during the (2010) Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia,” said Shockley.
The Sherpa was a versatile aircraft and was used to do things other cargo aircraft could not do, said Shockley.
“A C-130 (Hercules aircraft) simply cannot land at every location,” he said. “Sometimes a CH-47 (Chinook helicopter) is too expensive to operate for a light load. It was another tool that was cost effective in homeland defense, disaster preparedness and the Global War on Terrorism.”
But for Shockley, one of the best things about flying the Sherpa was that, “it was a very stable instrument platform,” and the crew stations were comfortable.
Now with the aircraft at its final destination and set to be retired, Shockley said he has many personal memories about the aircraft.
“My first deployment, in 1999, was to Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, for disaster relief after Hurricane Mitch devastated much of the coastal regions of Central America,” Shockley said, adding that during his time in Honduras, he flew the Sherpa to haul disaster relief supplies, medical personnel, engineers and construction equipment throughout Central America.
Other moments stand out as well. Shockley recalled a flight in 2009 from Greenland to Iceland when a cockpit side window blew out.
“It was a little noisy and cold, but where are you going to land when you are over the North Atlantic? We landed in Keflavik, Iceland, without any problem,” said Shockley. 
Being a pilot of the Sherpa also sparked an interest in the aircraft in Shockley’s son Conor.
“You see, the first time Conor was in a C-23 he was barely one year old,” said Shockley. “He was bundled up in a snow suit at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, and sitting on my lap. He would reach up to the yoke and try to move it.”
Throughout the years, Shockley continued spending “Sherpa time” with Conor and Erin, Shockley’s wife, adding that the “toddler grew into the small boy and each visit to the Sherpa was not complete without a thousand questions that only a young boy could ask.”
Sixteen years after first introducing the aircraft to his son, Shockley and his son recently had their final “Sherpa moment” together.
“As Conor sat in the cockpit one last time, he looked around with a smile on his face and I realized that the little boy had grown into a young man but the enjoyment he once had for sitting in Dad’s airplane was still there,” Shockley said.
The last Sherpa’s journey to its final destination to the United States was not easy.
Shockley, who was part of the crew that flew the final Sherpa in the inventory on its final mission, said that electrical issues and inclement weather caused several delays in getting the aircraft home from Egypt.
Still, Shockley said was glad to have flown the Sherpa this last time.
“It was a privilege to have had the opportunity to fly the last Sherpa into retirement and the greater privilege was to have served as a crewmember with those hard working quiet professionals,” said Shockley.

Last B-52G eliminated under nuclear arms treaty

The last of the B-52Gs required to be dismantled under the new nuclear arms reduction treaty is no more. The Stratofortress, tail number 58-0224, was dismantled Dec. 19 at the Boneyard — the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

“What you see today will not be overly dramatic, but it is definitely historic,” said Col. Robert Lepper, commander of the 309th AMARG, at the event, according to the Armed Forces News Service.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, commonly known as New Start, required that the Air Force dismantle the bombers because their elimination limits the number of deployed strategic warheads, and the B-52Gs still counted as deployable in the boneyard. The treaty, which was effective Feb. 5, 2011, required the U.S. and Russia to limit deployable delivery vehicles to 700.
The bomber was dismantled by two engineers using a rescue saw to cut the tail off the fuselage, AFNS reported.
“Behind all the statistics were the dedicated troops and the aircrew that flew this airplane,” said, retired Gen. Earl O’Loughlin, a former commander of Air Force Logistics Center, now Air Force Materiel Command, according to AFNS. “This plane came into the inventory at a very strategic time. … It gave us a capability of long-range strike and gave us the true support that we needed for this country.”
The Air Force still flies 85 of the upgraded B-52Hs, which entered service in 1961. The G variant was used extensively in bombing campaigns in Vietnam, including the 1972 Operation Linebacker II campaigns, and flew 1,741 sorties during Operation Desert Storm.