Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

TOP STORY>> Support growing for more C-130Js

IN SHORT>> A retired general who once commanded Little Rock Air Force Base told 800 airmen, guests and community leaders that the Secretary of Defense is reconsidering the decision to pull the plus on C-130J procurement.

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is reconsidering his decision to pull the plug on acquisition of the remaining C-130J transport planes on order, according to retired Gen. Alfred G. Hansen, in town last weekend to help celebrate Little Rock Air Force Base’s 50th anniversary.

“There is no doubt that the (Air Force and the U.S. Armed Forces) need the C-130J. It’s a totally different airplane than the old C-130,” he said.

The Pentagon hopes to free about $5 billion for the Army by cutting Air Force-bound C-130Js—at an average cost of $83 million each—from the budgets between 2006 and 2011.

“When the Department of Defense made its decision (to cancel the remaining 70 C-130Js on order from Lockheed-Martin), it was made in a vacuum,” said Hansen, former commander of Little Rock Air Force Base. “They have the information now, and I would be surprised (if the order were cancelled).”

“The secretary of defense says he’s reevaluating the decision,” he added.

“The old C-130s have maintenance problems,” Hansen told a reporter, “and nothing else quite fills the bill.”

The C-27 can handle half the load, he said, and the Army was increasingly counting on the C-130 to move men and materials to minimize mounting casualties from roadside improvised explosive devices.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Little Rock, said there was no new, hard news on the fate of the C-130J, but that there were “positive indications” that the Pentagon was actively reconsidering its decision.

“The existing fleet is old and successful, and there’s nothing to replace it with. I’m encouraged we’re moving in the right direction.”

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin stands to lose $5 billion in sales between 2006 and 2011 if the program is cut from the budget.

The Pentagon defense proposal would end production of C-130Js this year.

That’s important locally because Little Rock Air Force Base is the premiere C-130 base in this country, responsible for virtually all flight and maintenance training. Facilities have been updated and expanded to prepare for the next generation of in-theater transport planes, the C-130J.

The Air Force has conditionally accepted 50 C-130J aircraft at a cost of $2.6 billion.

In February, Lockheed began limiting responses to requests for information about the C-130J from the Air Force and from others not under current contract, according to an article published in the Washington Times.

Two studies currently underway are likely to demonstrate the need to reinstate C-130J production to the 2006 defense budget, a top Air Force general testified before the House Armed Services Committee this month.

Currently, the Air Force has more than 500 C-130s, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force vice chief of staff, testified earlier this month. Of those, 200 are the older E models, and 30 of those are grounded.

Nearly a third of the grounded planes are at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Air Force wide, “We’re looking at having to ground another 50 or so because of wing spar and wing box issues,” Moseley said, while “The C-130Js now in the field have a proven mission-capability rate of more than 95 percent.”

In a related matter, about 3,000 striking Lockheed Martin machinists were voting near Atlanta on a new contract. Ob-servers say a second failure to ratify the contract—which was recommended by the union negotiating team—could lead to closure of the plants where the C-130J and A-1 fighter are built.