U.S. Sen. David Vitter today questioned Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz and Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley about the Air Force's decision regarding A-10s at Barksdale Air Force Base and Fort Polk, as well as the future of B-52s and the Global Strike Command. After the hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee, Vitter released the following statement:
"I felt it was really important to get insight into the Air Force's decision-making process regarding the A-10s. Army JRTC exercises at Fort Polk have depended on support from A-10s positioned nearby, and the Air Force hasn't clearly shown the benefits or savings from their decision to remove these vital components of joint training. I remain unconvinced that there's been sufficient coordination between the Air Force and the Army to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent as wisely as possible and that the Air Force did all it could to minimize the effect of losing A-10s on operations at Fort Polk.
"I was, however, pleased to hear that there are no plans to reassess the Global Strike Command at Barksdale. That appears to be untouched by their budget cuts, although I'm still concerned that the Air Force won't be moving forward with previously planned CONECT system upgrades. This could limit the capabilities of B-52s and we'll have to keep a close eye on that," said Vitter.
Approximately 70 percent of Joint Readiness Training Center exercises at Fort Polk involve support from A-10s based at nearby England Airpark and at Barksdale Air Force Base. Vitter pressed Schwartz and Donley about whether the Air Force made its decision in a "smokestack" without consulting Army officials on how Army operations at Fort Polk would be affected by the loss of A-10s.
The Global Strike Command at Barksdale was stood up in December 2009 to improve the safety, security and effectiveness of the military's nuclear-capable assets. In response to Vitter's question, Donley indicated that there were no plans to reverse the decision to establish GSC.
One proposed cut in the Air Force budget would affect scheduled CONECT system upgrades to B-52s, based at Barksdale, to provide the aircraft with digital communication and enhanced mission re-tasking capabilities. Schwartz indicated that the decision to cancel the upgrade was based on cost and that the B-52s would still function with an older but "sustainable" system.