We're headed for the rifle range right after we finish this whacky jam session, we promise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Marissa Tucker)
Representative Martha McSally, R-Az., an Air Force veteran, launched into the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing in the Capitol after they testified that manning levels were too low and budget cuts were too high. According to a story posted at Air Force Times, McSally called their logic the "newest excuse" for prematurely retiring the venerable A-10 "Warthog" attack aircraft, and she questioned if it wouldn't be wiser to cut non-essential personnel like "the hundreds of people playing tuba and clarinet."
"If we really had a manning crisis, from my perspective, we would really tell people to put down the tuba and pick up a wrench or a gun," McSally said during the hearing. "But we're not at that place, and I'm just concerned over these conflicting statements."
Then Lt.Col. McSally about to get her BRRRRTTT! on. (USAF photo)
"We've mothballed the equivalent of four A-10 squadrons since 2012, we have only nine remaining, and there are actually less airplanes in them than we used to have," McSally said.
"It's not just a platform issue, it's a training issue," Gen. Joseph Dunford, CJCS, replied. "As the advocate for close-air support and joint capabilities, I absolutely believe we need a transition plan, and there needs to be a replacement for the A-10 before it goes away."
"We need a fifth-generation fighter, but when it comes to close-air support, the F-35 having shortfalls in loiter time, lethality, weapons load, the ability to take a direct hit, to fly close combat ... and ... needs evaluation," she said.
McSally knows a thing or two about the topic of military aviation. She graduated from the Air Force Academy and then spent 22 years serving as an attack pilot, including commanding an A-10 squadron. In 2001 she famously sued DoD over the policy of making female service members wear veils while stationed in Saudi Arabia. She retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel and spent a year as a college professor in Germany before running for Congress. She lost a close race for Arizona's 8th Congressional District in 2012, and then won a close race two years later.
And, for the record, the Air Force says it currently has about 540 enlisted airmen and 20 officers assigned to band billets.