Force Structure: Preliminary Observations on Air Force A-10 Divestment

GAO-15-698R Published: Jun 25, 2015. Publicly Released: Jun 25, 2015.
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What GAO Found

The Air Force A-10 fighter aircraft divestment decision came out of a strategy-based, portfolio-wide review of alternatives used to develop the budget at lower than previously anticipated levels. The Department of Defense (DOD) and Air Force strategic guidance prioritized, among other things, fifth-generation aircraft such as the F-35, readiness, and multirole aircraft, while placing a lower priority on single-role aircraft like the A-10. In developing its fiscal year 2015 budget request, the Air Force examined its entire portfolio in light of this guidance and concluded that the benefits of divesting the A-10 outweighed the cost of retaining it. DOD reviewed and approved the Air Force A-10 divestment decision and submitted this as part of the fiscal year 2015 budget request.

The Air Force has not fully assessed the cost savings associated with A-10 divestment or its alternatives. In its fiscal year 2015 budget request, the Air Force estimated that divesting the A-10 would allow it to save $4.2 billion over its 5-year budget plan; however, our analysis found that the Air Force’s estimated savings are incomplete and may overstate or understate estimated savings. In presenting its budget to Congress, the Air Force provided a number of alternatives to A-10 divestment that would also result in approximately $4.2 billion in cost savings. However, these alternatives were rough estimates that were illustrative only and not fully considered as alternatives to A-10 divestment, according to Air Force officials.

Finally, Air Force divestment of the A-10 will create potential gaps in close air support (CAS)—a mission involving air action against hostile targets in proximity to friendly forces—and other missions, and DOD is planning to address some of these gaps. For example, A-10 divestment results in an overall capacity decrease in the Air Force’s CAS-capable fleet. This capacity reduction is mitigated by phasing A-10 divestment over several years and by introducing the F-35 into the fleet, but Air Force documentation also shows that the F-35’s CAS capability will be limited for several years. Air Force analysis shows that divestment of the A-10 would increase operational risks in one DOD planning scenario set in 2020. Divestiture of the A-10 could also contribute to gaps due to the training focus of its aircrews, its wide range of weapons, and its operational capabilities, including its ability to operate in austere environments and under the weather. Further, the A-10 is currently either the only or best Air Force platform to conduct certain missions, such as complex ones requiring aircraft specifically trained to coordinate rescue missions, escort helicopters, and suppress enemy forces or countering swarming small boats that could pose a threat to U.S. ships. In order to mitigate the loss of the A-10, the Air Force is considering a number of steps including transitioning A-10 personnel to F-16 and F-15E units that will have an increased focus on CAS and studying whether the F-16 or F-15E can replace the A-10 in some of its other missions. DOD is also planning on increasing the proportion of training that can be performed on simulators. As agreed with committee staff, GAO will be conducting a more-detailed assessment of these issues and report the final results later this year.

Why GAO Did This Study

Section 133 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 included a provision for GAO to conduct an independent study of the platforms used to conduct the CAS mission in light of the recommendation of the Air Force to retire the A-10 fleet. GAO was to brief the congressional defense committees on the preliminary findings of its study, with a report to follow as soon as practicable that includes assessments of the relative costs, benefits, and assumptions of divesting the A-10 or alternative actions. This report provides preliminary observations on (1) the process that led to the Air Force’s decision to divest the A-10 and consider alternatives; (2) the extent to which the Air Force analyzed the cost savings from the A-10 divestment proposal and alternatives; and (3) the extent to which the A-10 divestment creates gaps in CAS and other missions, and DOD plans to address any gaps that may have been created. To conduct our work, we evaluated relevant DOD and Air Force documentation, such as budget information, strategic-guidance documents, and projected inventory of Air Force CAS-capable fighters. We also discussed the information with knowledgeable agency officials and obtained input from across DOD and the services. This report is the unclassified version of the classified report issued in June 2015.

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