Tuesday delivered a visible beginning of the end for the 188th Fighter Wing mission in Fort Smith as two A-10 war planes departed the Fort Smith Regional Airport for a new home at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.
The 188th is in the early stages of a conversion from A-10s to a remotely piloted aircraft and Intelligence mission.
“Over the course of the coming months, the 188th will lose two aircraft per month until June 2014, when the final two are slated to depart. Tail Nos. A0644 and A0614 were the first two to leave on Tuesday. Those two A-10s will join Moody AFB’s 75th Fighter Squadron. Two 75th pilots arrived in Fort Smith via commercial flights and flew the former 188th jets back to Moody AFB,” noted a statement from the 188th.
The next two A-10s are set to leave in October.
Broad cuts in U.S. defense spending – possibly up to $500 billion over 10 years – include the removal of the 20 A-10 Thunderbolt fighter planes from the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith.
With the loss of the A-10 mission and the new MQ9 (drone) mission, along with the relocation of the 123rd Intelligence Squadron from Little Rock Air Force Base to Fort Smith and other shifts, Fort Smith's base should only see a small reduction in individuals stationed at the site, according to 188th commander Col. Mark Anderson.
Anderson said during a Sept. 6 address to members of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce that 977 positions are based at the 188th, which will be reduced to 960 positions as a result of the realignment.
While the number of positions will not see drastic changes, the types of positions will be vastly different. For example, Anderson said the base will lose all aircraft maintenance jobs and most aviation support positions as the drone mission will not require "guys with wrenches" to be on site and servicing the drones.
“While we’re sad that our A-10s had to go, we’re getting a cutting edge mission that will feature a substantial Intelligence and RPA mission. It’s definitely bittersweet,” Anderson said in the 188th statement issued Tuesday (Sept. 10).
The 188th statement included the following history with the A-10.
• The 188th received its Warthogs in April 2007.
• The 188th deployed 10 A-10s and nearly 300 Airmen to Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan in 2010.
• The 188th logged the largest deployment in unit history in 2012 when it sent 10 A-10s and nearly 400 Airmen to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
• While in Bagram, the 188th set deployment records in combat sorties (1,850), combat flying hours (8,000), precision guided munitions drops (375), 30mm Gatling gun rounds fired (60,000) and rockets launched (210). The 188th provided vital close-air support to nearly 500 troops in contact on the battlefield with an astounding zero air tasking orders missed.
• While deployed to Bagram, the 188th maintained an 87 percent mission capable rate.
• During its last deployment, the 188th was heavily tasked, flying in three months at Bagram what would typically take two years to accomplish in a home station training environment in Fort Smith.
• The 188th consistently led all five A-10 Air National Guard units in all key metrics, including mission capable and fully mission capable rates.
According to the 188th website, the unit began in October 1953 as the 184th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron.
The unit has been home to nine aircraft types, beginning with the RB-26, a twin-engine modified bomber. The unit converted in 1956 to the RF-80, a jet aircraft, when the unit was assigned a daylight reconnaissance mission.
The RF-84F arrived in 1957, and was replaced in 1970 by the RF-101 (Voodoo).
In 1972 the unit’s recon mission ended with the arrival of the F-100 Super Sabre. The unit was recast as the 188th Tactical Fighter Group. In 1979, the “Flying Razorbacks” handle was adopted by the 188th when it received the F-4C Phantom.
In 1988 the F-16A Fighting Falcon replaced the F-4C, and in 2000 the F-16s were upgraded to the F-16 A variant.
A last-minute decision by the Base Realignment and Closure Committee in 2005 replaced the F-16 with the A-10. On April 14, 2007, the 188th received its first A-10.