Loss of jet likely means more noise or less jobs
To many students, the odd jet flying over campus appears to be just another reject from an original-trilogy “Star Wars” movie, but to longtime residents of Tucson, the A-10 Thunderbolt II is one of the city’s cultural symbols. The A-10 has been a familiar sight over Tucson since it first arrived in 1976, establishing itself as a Tucson icon alongside the saguaro cactus and Wilbur Wildcat himself. The aging attack fighter’s storied career is currently threatened with retirement at the hands of the military’s newest toy, the F-35 Lightning II, as well as government cuts and the controversial new drone program. Not only does the retirement of the A-10 have economic repercussions for the city of Tucson, but it will require residents to say goodbye to a part of their city’s identity.
The A-10 was designed and built by the Fairchild Corporation during the early part of the 1970s for the U.S. Air Force. It was designed with a single objective — low-flying air-to-ground support — and has played a key role in both the Persian Gulf and Iraq wars. While the official name of the aircraft is the Thunderbolt II, it is usually referred to as the “Warthog,” due to its oddly-shaped nose construction and propensity for desert engagements. The nickname has inspired many squadrons to adorn their aircraft noses with a snarling set of teeth featuring a warthog tusk.
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is the third largest employer in Tucson, and 2,000 of those jobs are directly related to the A-10 mission. Between $1 billion and $1.5 billion is brought into the Tucson valley through the Air Force base every year, and the reassignment of 2,000 military families out of the post will remove a large chunk of that income. Neighborhoods in the area southeast of the UA and north of the base, where local businesses specifically cater to military personnel and their families, will be most affected by the retirement of the program. The retirement of the A-10 will have adverse effects upon businesses like these, causing them to shut down or take their business elsewhere.
Tucson has enjoyed a unique relationship with the A-10. The aircraft has never suffered a crash in the Tucson metro area. A similar statement could not be made about the Warthog’s predecessor, the F-4 Phantom II, which crashed into a local supermarket. The Warthog has performed well in the volatile Tucson monsoon season, as it is specifically designed to fly in poor weather conditions. While replacing the A-10 with the newer, faster F-35 may keep part of those 2,000 jobs at Davis-Monthan, some realities of living near an Air Force base would be restored to the surrounding area.
While many Air Force base communities must deal with loud jet-noise, the A-10 is a relatively quiet aircraft when compared with many of its peers. The F-35 is more than seven times louder and frequently flies at supersonic speed, creating a greater strain on the human ear. Should the A-10 be replaced with the F-35 or a similar fighter jet, neighborhoods in the Davis-Monthan flight path could turn into “noise ghettos,” such as those springing up near military bases in Langley, Va., and Whidbey, Wash.
The retirement of the A-10 is inevitable and will most likely occur within the next few years. Many politicians on both the regional and national level have strongly advocated for the Warthog’s retirement to be delayed as long as possible. This movement has received bipartisan support at the state level from both Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Rep. Ron Barber, while in Washington, D.C., the House Armed Services Committee voted to delay the retirement of the A-10 another year. Many advocates of the A-10 are skeptical of the F-35’s ability to effectively fill the role of the Warthog in military confrontations. Currently, many of those committee members that voted on the decision are reluctant to pull the A-10 from Air Force base tarmacs until they are sure it is the best thing for our nation’s modern military.
Only time will tell what the retirement of the A-10 will mean for the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, but it will have adverse effects upon the community of Tucson. Should the base not receive a new jet assignment, the Tucson economy will take a hit as the city’s third largest employer cuts over 10 percent of jobs in one of its key roles. If, instead, the A-10 is replaced with a different fighter jet, Tucson will be forced to adapt to a noisier Davis-Monthan.