Plans remain in place to start transitioning the Arkansas Air National Guard’s 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith this fiscal year from flying A-10 ground-attack jets to operating MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft and executing additional roles, said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. “The plan is to start drawing down the A-10 unit this summer,” Welsh told the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel on May 9 in response to questioning from Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.). Welsh said the wing would lose about two of its A-10s a month through summer 2014. The unit has 20 A-10s. In spring or summer 2014, “we’ll start to move people who are interested” from the A-10 unit to the new space targeting squadron that the Air Force is establishing at Fort Smith, he said. “And, we’ll also start to look for training opportunities in the MQ-9, because the intent is to have initial operational capability of the MQ-9 squadron at Fort Smith by the first quarter of Fiscal Year ’16,” said Welsh. Fort Smith’s mission switch is part of the Air Force’s force structure changes that Congress approved in the Fiscal 2013 defense policy act. (Welsh’s prepared remarks)
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.