FORT WAYNE -- The commander of Fort Wayne’s Air National Guard base announced Friday afternoon that the complex will lose its squadron of A-10 attack jets but replace them with surveillance planes.
Col. David Augustine told a news conference the 122nd Fighter Wing had been informed it will receive nine to 11 aircraft from other bases in 2013. The plane is the MC-12, a twin-engine turboprop used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The planes were first deployed in 2009.
“This in itself is good news for the community in fact that the base will not close as speculated,” Augustine said about new reports that five bases, including Fort Wayne’s, would lose their A-10 squadrons as part of $487 billion in budget cuts planned by the Pentagon.
But Augustine said he would urge that the Air Force keep the A-10 squadron at the 122nd Fighter Wing rather than convert to the MC-12.
“We believe the decision does not leverage the efficiency the National Guard offers, especially in light that the unit was requested to transition to the A-10 just three years ago.”
The base has flown fighter jets since 1947. It has nearly 20 of the A-10 jets, nicknamed the Warthog.
Augustine said he did not know how a conversion to the MC-12 would affect personnel at the base, where more than 1,200 people work.
Five bases that fly the A-10 Warthog fighter jet, including Fort Wayne’s, are slated to lose those squadrons.
Indiana congressmen sent a strongly-worded letter to Gen. Norton A. Schwartz on Friday, saying that the 122nd Fighter Wing is “essential” to the Indiana National Guard and that any cuts would have a deep impact on northeast Indiana.
The letter signed by Rep. Marlin Stutzman, Rep. Dan Burton, Rept. Mike Pence, Rept. Larry Buschon and Rept. Todd Young, posed a number of questions and demanded information about what lies ahead.
It asked whether Fort Wayne will get acceptable replacements, F-22s or F-35s, or “existing legacy aircraft”?
It also asked whether the Air Force has considered that the A-10 squadron had a precision-engagement upgrade in 2008 and whether that the recent $2.25 billion “investment” in the A-10 had been weighed in the decision.
The congressmen said that the A-10 “excels at ground attack, not just bombing” and asked whether any other plane, including the F-35, can beat this “cheap and durable aircraft” in withstanding fire from the ground.
“Should the A-10 squadron be eliminated in the 122nd Fighter Wing,” they ask, “will it be replaced with alternative air missions? If so, what budgetary and operational criteria will be used to determine the 122nd Fighter Wing’s missions going forward and when?”
Local organizations have already expressed willingness to battle on behalf of the Air National Guard.
Spokesmen for the Fort Wayne Base Community Council, the Northeast Indiana Defense Industry Association and the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce said Thursday they will promote the performance and efficiency of the air base to federal officials.
“The Guard can do essentially what the Air Force can do for about 28 cents on the dollar,” said Rob Young, president of the Base Community Council, a support group for military families. “I think that is a great starting point. It’s a great value for American taxpayers.”
Raytheon operations director Bruce Menshy, chairman of the Defense Industry Association, said, “We’ll certainly be supportive of the Guard and its mission here and its ability to perform that mission in an efficient way.”
Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mike Landram said he sent a letter supporting the 122nd Fighter Wing to government officials.
“We recognize the economic impact the base has on our community and are working to ensure it stays put,” Landram said in a news release.
The Defense Department is proposing to do away with other planes and ships as well as trimming troop levels by 80,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines.
Federal lawmakers from both political parties are already protesting the Pentagon’s intention to start up the independent Base Realignment and Closures Commission for the first time since 2005.
Anne Gregory of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.