Championing Responsible National Security Policy

Air Force Leaders Threatened by Relevant, Factual A-10 Information

(Illustration: Renzo Velez / POGO; Photo: US Air Force / Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Air Force leaders are concerned that members of Congress and the public reading information not cleared by them will thwart their efforts to buy new aircraft and retire the programs they don’t want. To control the narrative, members of the Air Force are being warned not to release information that could complicate the official messaging.

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) obtained a copy of a May 18, 2022, email sent to all hands in the 53rd Wing by the wing’s operational security officer that warned recipients against unauthorized leaks. The email included a message attributed to General Charles “CQ” Brown, Jr. The message says, “an internal brief about the sustainment of the A-10 was leaked to the public, which makes it more difficult for [the secretary of the Air Force] and [Air Force chief of staff] to message Congress on modernization. We are our own worst enemy when we don’t practice good [operational security].”

The brief referenced was a PowerPoint presentation from March 2022, also obtained by POGO, that detailed the Air Force’s A-10 divestiture plans. That brief showed how Air Force leaders sabotaged the A-10 fleet by refusing to fund needed upgrades including new wings and an improved computer. They also stripped maintenance resources, creating a significant backlog of repair work. The unclassified briefing showed how Air Force leaders have worked to destroy the fleet through neglect to better make the case that the A-10 should be retired.

This latest attempt to control the narrative surrounding the A-10 is reminiscent of an earlier episode where an Air Force general declared that anyone speaking to Congress about the program in a way counter to the official message was committing “treason.” According to the Air Force’s internal investigation report, Major General James Post was asked a question about the future of the A-10 fleet during a conference attended by about 350 Air Force officers on January 10, 2015. Post responded in part by saying, “If anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it ... anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason.”

Post’s comments prompted an immediate response from both the inspector general and Capitol Hill. The late Senator John McCain (R-AZ) called on the Air Force to launch an investigation. Post was relieved of his duties soon after and forced into early retirement.

Congress should pay close attention to this incident as well. When the Air Force chief of staff’s message hinges on a tightly controlled narrative with absolutely no contradictory information allowed, the case being made should be questioned all the more.

Congress needs to hold Air Force leaders accountable. Members should reject the Air Force’s A-10 retirement plans and make sure the fleet receives the resources necessary to rehabilitate it.

The Air Force’s plans to retire the A-10 without an adequate replacement will create a significant capability gap. Troops on the ground will not have the support they need without an effective attack aircraft program and, even more importantly, a cadre of specialized pilots dedicated to the mission.

Congress needs to hold Air Force leaders accountable. Members should reject the Air Force’s A-10 retirement plans and make sure the fleet receives the resources necessary to rehabilitate it. Additionally, Congress should demand a briefing from the Air Force about its plans to replace the capability of the A-10. The best outcome would be a replacement aircraft, which should be based on the original requirements for the A-10 and integrate modern combat systems. A-10 pilots have been thinking about the design characteristics of a 21st century attack aircraft for years, so engineers would not have to start from scratch.

If Congress fails to act and allows Air Force leaders to follow through with their secretive plans to scrap the A-10 without replacing it, there will quickly come a day when young Americans fighting on a distant battlefield will die because the air support they need is absent from the skies above.