Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

TOP STORY >> As Air Force cuts staff, it spends more

Leader editor

Despite continued cuts in military personnel, a top Pentagon official told members of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council Tuesday that the Jacksonville air base will see continued growth as C-130 pilot training will remain an important part of the nation’s defense strategy. “We will always need plenty of tactical mobility pilots,” said Roger M. Blanchard, Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for personnel in Washington. “Little Rock Air Force Base will continue as the premier trainer of C-130 pilots.”

A major part of current Air Force strategy includes “recapitalization of equipment,” Blanchard said. “We were on a procurement holiday in the 1990s,” he said, although the Defense Department is spending more on acquisitions than it has in decades. While other bases are shutting down or downsizing, LRAFB will see several hundred additional airmen assigned here, along with eight more C-130s. Blanchard said that was a significant development as the Air Force continues significant reductions in personnel, soon dropping to 315,000, from a high of some 600,000 more than a decade ago.

Those personnel cuts are needed to buy additional airplanes and weapons systems. To pay for those purchases, a leaner, more mobile military machine is called for, Blanchard said, whose centerpiece is an expeditionary force that can reach anywhere in the world almost immediately.

In the war on terror, the military relies on “an interdependent effort,” where all the services depend on each other for support and backup. Critics say the Air Force is playing a lesser role in that war effort — even though air power toppled Saddam Hussein in a matter of days — but Blanchard pointed out that some 27,000 Air Force personnel, including several hundred from the Jacksonville air base, are deployed in the war on terror.

The Bush administration Monday submitted to Congress a 2008 military budget calling for $27 billion for new aircraft programs, including $1.58 billion for 13 more C-130J transport planes, one more than last year. Under the proposed budget, the Air Force would receive $110.7 billion in 2008, an increase of $6.2 billion. The Pentagon last year reversed a decision by former Defense Secretary Donald S. Rumsfeld to eliminate the C-130J program. The Air Force wants to buy 38 more C-130Js in the next five years. Little Rock Air Force Base has seven C-130Js and several more may be assigned here.

Defense spending has been growing every year since 1998, well beyond the inflation rate. Much of that spending is for the war in Iraq, but new planes and other hardware are in the pipeline. Blanchard emphasized capital spending as part of the military’s retooling for a new century. He said the choice was clear: Reduce the force and buy new airplanes, or fly 50-year-old planes. The military chose the former rather than the latter.

“The key to Little Rock’s success owes significantly to a partnership that exists between the community and the air base,” Blanchard said. “Recapitalization of our equipment is very important,” he continued. “We’re trying to find more efficient ways of doing business,” Blanchard said. “There’s no other military in the history of the world that could perform the mobility missions that the Air Force performs,” the deputy chief said. “Our Air Force is unique. It’s incomparable and unsurpassed in its success.”