Arizona’s good flying weather has made it a critical part of military aviation since World War II. Bases, especially for the Air Force, have been a major factor in the economy for decades, and that has continued in a much more populous Arizona — and even contributed to it. At the same time, the Pentagon must constantly seek to update its weapons and forces within a finite budget. That frequently leads to conflicts with members of Congress whose constituents stand to lose something.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II has been a mainstay for the Air Force and Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson for a long time. Often known as the “Warthog,” it has a 30mm gun that was a major deterrent to tanks during the Cold War. The aircraft since has played a big role in military actions, especially in the Middle East.
The Pentagon in recent years has considered scaling back the A-10’s role, which has been met with strong opposition from Arizona congressmen. The late Sen. John McCain, a senior leader on military affairs, staunchly defended the A-10. Another, current, Republican senator, Martha McSally, flew it during her Air Force career and wears a version of it on her neck. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who now represents Tucson, has defended the plane. Rep. Ruben Gallego, who like McSally is a Middle East veteran, says the aircraft was vital for him and his fellow Marines.
The Air Force has a desire to move away from the plane that now has been at Davis-Monthan for more than four decades, and jobs are on the line with the planned retirement of 42 A-10s, more than half the fleet there. Huge investments have been made in new aircraft, which is essential, and they are stationed elsewhere.
In the end, the government needs to do what is best for America’s military capability. That sometimes involves mothballing aircraft and even closing bases. Arizona’s bases will always have an advantage for aviation because of the number of good flying days, and that should be kept in mind.