The US Air Force has no near-term plans to retire two of its most iconic aircraft: the Fairchild Republic A-10 and Lockheed Martin U-2.
President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget request ensures that both the close-air support specialist and high-flying surveillance aircraft will remain in the USAF’s inventory – although it is unclear for how long, given the Department of Defense’s shaky overview of its future years' programme budget.
Speaking as the budget request was made on 23 May, DoD officials appeared reluctant to confirm any numbers beyond FY2018, stating that an FY2019 budget would likely change, based on the outcome of a defence strategy review.
“There is not a retirement date for the U-2 in this budget,” says USAF Maj Gen James Martin, deputy assistant secretary for budget. “It’s a capability we need, and the capacity as well.”
Trump’s proposed budget does not represent the first time the U-2 has been saved from retirement. In then-President Barack Obama’s 2016 budget request, the air force set the aircraft’s divestiture back to 2019, with its final retirement no later than FY2020.
In the 2017 presidential budget, the USAF addressed reliability issues and supported the integration of payloads on the U-2. The FY2018 budget proposes retaining the fleet through FY2022, and will continue to address sustainment issues through trade studies and preliminary systems engineering and testing, according to budget documents. Those efforts would support both the current programme and studies on future U-2 programme planning.
Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk – the platform slated to replace the U-2 – began testing the MS-177 sensor earlier this month. The payload is the next generation of the senior year electro-optical reconnaissance system-2 (SYERS-2) – a sensor carried on the U-2.
Following several saves by allies in Congress in the past, the air force’s Fairchild Republic A-10s dodged divestment again this budget cycle, with the service ensuring a fully-funded fleet of 283 examples. Fleet strategy and viability will be assessed as the service determines a long-term plan, the USAF’s budget overview states.
The FY2018 budget proposal also includes a new start for the A-10 programme, with an ADS-B Out modification that would ensure the ground-attack aircraft complies with a US Federal Aviation Administration mandate for all civilian and military aircraft to meet future air traffic demands.
In February, air force chief of staff Gen David Goldfein indicated the A-10 retirement would at least be delayed, saying the service would keep its fleet through 2021. An ultimate retirement date would be decided following a discussion with defense secretary James Mattis, he added.
In an interview with FlightGlobal, the air force’s outgoing Air Combat Command chief, Gen Herbert Carlisle, said new Boeing-produced wings could stretch the A-10’s life out as far as the 2030s.