11 Apr 2022 Military.com | By Thomas Novelly
In the fall of 2010, the Indiana Air National Guard took on the task of replacing its old, 1990s-era F-16 Fighting Falcons at the Fort Wayne airfield with a fresh fleet of A-10 Warthogs.
The A-10, a larger aircraft at 53 feet, 4 inches long with a 57 foot, 6-inch wingspan, has been in service with the U.S. military since the 1970s. It was used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing close-air support for troops as it lumbered above at a max speed of 420 miles per hour.
But under the latest Air Force budget proposal, nearly two dozen of the Indiana Air National Guard’s A-10s would be retired and the 122nd Fighter Wing would bring on new aircraft — F-16s. Again.
“We’re taking 21 A-10s out, and we’re replacing them with F-16s. That’s going to happen in Indiana, and we think that should not be controversial,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters late last month.
Indiana National Guardsmen with the 122nd Fighter Wing have lovingly embraced the A-10 aircraft over the last decade. The unit’s Warthogs, known for their signature “brrrttt” noise emitted from 30 mm Gatling-style guns and their ability to keep flying despite taking heavy gunfire, have been deployed to Afghanistan, eastern Europe and southeast Asia.
But now, the Indiana Air National Guard is more than ready to part with the aging A-10 fleet. While some lawmakers, like those from Arizona, have been quick to condemn any retirement of the aircraft or suggest offloading them to Ukrainian pilots untrained on A-10s, Indiana’s delegation in Washington has been angling to replace the Warthogs with F-16s again in hopes that it could eventually lead to more modern aircraft coming to the Hoosier State.
The Air Force has spent years trying to remove the A-10 from service, claiming the rising cost of maintenance would impede acquiring newer aircraft like the F-35A Lightning II that continues to claim an outsized portion of the service’s acquisition budget.
“The A-10 is a wonderful airplane. It’s done incredible things for our nation,” Air Force Lt. Gen. David Nahom, the service’s plans and programs chief, told the House Armed Services Committee’s tactical air and land forces subpanel last year. “But we have to start repurposing some of the resources out of the A-10 into some modern capabilities. … If we don’t reduce the A-10 slightly this year, we run into extreme problems.”
When the Indiana Air National Guard received the A-10s in 2010, there was immediate excitement among the state’s military community. But it didn’t take long for Hoosier State politicians to start angling for the F-35 Lightning.
In 2015, then-Gov. Mike Pence announced that 18 F-16 Falcons would be introduced to the 122nd Air Wing to replace some of the A-10s.
“The F-16 is a perfect bridge mission to the Joint Strike Fighter, which Indiana is determined to bring to Fort Wayne,” Pence said in a news release at the time.
In 2017, U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., sent a letter to Senate and House Appropriations Committees asking them to fund new wing sets for A-10s nationwide, calling the aircraft “essential to the Air Force’s ability to meet combatant commander requirements around the globe.”
But only a year later, in a letter to then-Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Young pointed out the service branch “confronts a significant challenge in maintaining A-10 readiness” and added that the “Fort Wayne community would eagerly welcome the return of F-16s.”
Young said in that letter he believes the F-16 is a natural fit in Fort Wayne because of the existing infrastructure and that many of the personnel know maintenance on that fighter jet well. He told Military.com in an emailed statement Monday that he supports the retirement of the A-10 and that the Indiana National Guard welcomes the transition, too.
“For years, I have advocated for the 122nd Fighter Wing to be authorized to move forward with their desire to transition from the A-10 to the F-16,” Young said. “I was glad to see this included by name in the President’s Budget, and I will be aggressively advocating for this to be preserved in the upcoming NDAA and Appropriations process.”
The Indiana National Guard’s adjutant general provided Military.com with a statement via email saying his airmen are flexible and ready to train on aircraft they receive.
“Our Hoosier National Guard airmen stand ready for any mission the Air Force and Pentagon task us with,” said Maj. Gen. Dale Lyles, Indiana National Guard adjutant general. “Airmen with the 122nd Fighter Wing excel at fielding and flying any type of aircraft, from the P-47 in the ’40s to the F-4 in the ’80s to the F-16 in the ’90s to the A-10 today.”
— Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.