Maryland’s Warfield Air National Guard Base will change its focus to cyberdefense from a flight mission under a plan announced Thursday by the U.S. Air Force.

The Air Force, in a written statement, said the move coincides with preexisting cyber assets at Fort George G. Meade in Anne Arundel County “to create a natural synergy” at the post. The 175th Fighter Wing at Warfield, which flies A-10 Thunderbolt model aircrafts, is located at Martin State Airport in Middle River.

“The transition of the 175th Fighter Wing to a cyber wing also aligns the Maryland Air National Guard with an enduring modern mission that meets the requirements of the National Defense Strategy,” the Air Force said in the statement.

The Air Force expects to phase out the 21 A-10s at Warfield this fall as part of a move across the country to retire the fighters, known as Warthogs. The planes, designed for close air support of ground forces, have been flown by the Maryland Air National Guard since 1979.

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Service members stationed at Warfield will still have a role once the change to a cyber mission is complete, the Air Force said. Final decisions about manpower at Fort Meade are expected to be completed over the next year, but the shift isn’t expected to reduce the number of airmen at the post, the Air Force said.

The decision drew quick backlash from public officials in Maryland, who called for the new cyber command to have full resources and said the phase-out of the A-10s “disappointing.”

Gov. Wes Moore said keeping the flight mission at Martin State Airport one of his top federal priorities. The men and women of the 175th Wing have more than 60,000 hours of combined flying experience and 12,000 hours of combat flying experience, Moore said.

“Any new cyber wing must be fully resourced in order to build the facilities and train personnel,” Moore said in a statement. “We are disappointed to learn of the Air Force’s decision to hurriedly retire the A-10 mission across the nation, including the mission at Martin State, without a plan to retain experienced pilots and maintainers or to replace older systems with advanced aircraft.”

Three members of Maryland’s Congressional delegation said the shift to a cyber command focus will mean more high-tech jobs for members of the Maryland National Guard.

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“We will be working with the Air Force and U.S. Cyber Command to ensure that this expansion is adequately resourced,” U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, along with U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, said in a joint statement.

But, the Congressmen said, while the move is part of a national directive, it could hurt a branch of the military already facing a shortage of more than 1,900 pilots.

“That being said, we are disappointed that, despite our repeated objections, the Air Force will move forward with retiring the A-10 presence at Martin State without immediately assigning the 175th a replacement flying mission,” the delegation members said.

Moore said he hopes military aircraft can either stay in, or return to, the state.

“We are committed to working with our federal partners at the White House and the Pentagon to acquire another flying mission in Maryland this year,” Moore said.

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Maj. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead, adjutant general for Maryland, who oversees the Maryland Military Department, thanked everyone who worked with the 175th Wing.

“As decisions around the future of the 175th Wing continue to be solidified, I want to focus on our pilots, maintainers, and their families as they prepare for an imminent combat deployment,” Birckhead said in a statement.

The pilots and maintenance personnel will continue flying and working on the airplanes until they are formally retired.

The Air Force will complete an environmental impact analysis for the cyber wing, which is expected to be done by fall 2025.

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