Plans for Fort Wayne's Air National Guard base to convert from A-10 attack jets to F-16 fighter jets appear to be dead.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the 122nd Fighter Wing will continue to fly its squadron of A-10s for at least the next five years.
She was responding to questions from Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., who said three Air Force officials, including Wilson, had told him in recent months that the 122nd Fighter Wing will remain a combat unit.
“I want to make sure that this commitment to maintaining a manned air combat mission at Fort Wayne will be kept,” Donnelly, a committee member, said at the hearing.
“Senator, the A-10 is at Fort Wayne, and we have no intention of removing it,” Wilson replied in a video of testimony released by Donnelly's office. “It's there for the foreseeable future, and they'll have that manned combat mission. We have no intention of changing that.”
Pressed by Donnelly for a time frame, Wilson said, “We're keeping the A-10s for the foreseeable future, which is five or 10 years at least.”
Donnelly noted that the Air Force had planned to move F-16s from Hill Air Force Base in Utah to the Fort Wayne base beginning this year. But he referred to recent news reports that the Air Force is sending two F-16 squadrons from Hill to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico to make way for F-35 Joint Strike Fighters at Hill.
Wilson did not comment about prospects for F-16s to end up in Fort Wayne.
“We made the decision to keep the A-10s,” she said. “So we're keeping the A-10s, and we have no intention of taking that away from the Guard.”
Gen. David Goldfein, chief of staff of the Air Force, said about the 122nd Fighter Wing: “The reality is we need that wing flying the A-10 right now.”
Donnelly's office later told The Journal Gazette he “will continue pushing” to place F-16s or F-35s at the Fort Wayne base, where 20 planes and about 1,000 personnel are assigned. The 122nd Fighter Wing flew the F-16 Fighting Falcon from 1991 until 2010, when it switched to the A-10 Thunderbolt II. The base had been considered for the F-35 but was not among five finalists selected by the Air Force in December.
In 2014, after the Defense Department again sought congressional permission to retire its entire fleet of A-10s, the Obama administration recommended that F-16s return to the Fort Wayne base. The Air Force at the time called the A-10 outdated and too specialized; nicknamed “Warthog” for its appearance, the plane has been used since the 1970s to provide close air support to ground troops.
But Congress kept rejecting the retirement plan, and the Pentagon scrapped it in 2016. The Trump administration's federal budget request for fiscal 2018 would keep all 283 A-10s flying through 2022.