U.S. Air Force officials announced Friday plans to retire 20 A-10 Thunderbolt II fighter planes from the 188th Fighter Wing at Fort Chaffee in Fort Smith, according to Arkansas Business news partner KFSM-TV, Channel 5, in Fort Smith.
Officials at the 188th plan to hold a news conference at 4 p.m. to discuss their new mission. KFSM is carrying the announcement live here.
The Arkansas National Guard said the 188th will transition from the A-10 Thunderbolt II to a remotely piloted aircraft mission in fiscal year 2013, KFSM reported.
KFSM said the 189th Airlift Wing in Little Rock is also included in the proposal, with the retirement of one of its nine C-130H aircraft in fiscal year 2017.
KFSM has more here.
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said that even though the 188th survived Base Realignment and Closure in 2005, he is concerned about plans for the future.
"I, along with the Fort Smith community and the Arkansas Congressional delegation, will fight tooth and nail to ensure the Air Force maintains a viable mission to our national defense in Fort Smith," Pryor said in a news release.
"I also have concerns about cutting the C-130 AMP program. The Air Force needs to explain why this decision makes economic and strategic sense."
The Air Force outlines the cuts in a document here.
The cuts are part of $487 billion in defense cuts over the coming decade the Pentagon outlined last week. The cuts would come from shrinking U.S. ground forces, slowing the purchase of a next-generation stealth fighter and retiring older planes and ships.
In a bid to pre-empt election-year Republican criticism, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the plan shifts the Pentagon’s focus from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to future challenges in Asia, the Mideast and in cyberspace. More special operations forces like the Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden will be available around the world, he said.
Arkansas miliary personnel at Fort Chaffee in Fort Smith have long believed their operations might be cut as part of Panetta’s plan.
Last week, members of the 188th Fighter Wing Steering Committee, an arm of the 188th Fighter Wing/Fort Chaffee Community Council, watched Pannetta unveil the broad strokes of cost cutting plan online.
"We believe we are at risk to lose the A-10s in Fort Smith," community council chairman Retired Col. Kevin Wear said in a news release, referring to the A-10 Thunderbolt II fighter planes stationed there.
"While it is understood that cuts must be made in many areas to reduce our nation’s deficit spending trend, those cuts need to be made for the right reasons. The facts support that if there is only one A-10 base in the world, it should be in Fort Smith, Arkansas if the decision makers are doing the right things for the right reasons.
"If the decision is based on cost-effectiveness and combat efficiencies, on saving money, on ‘bang-for-buck,’ on the most firepower available when needed, A-10s need to be on the ramp in Fort Smith, Arkansas," he said.