Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

TOP STORY >>$1B invested on base

By HEATHER HARTSELL
Leader staff writer

Little Rock Air Force Base could soon have half a billion dollars in construction projects and upgrades once Congress approves $22.4 million in funding, in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new aircraft the base will see in the coming years.

Current construction projects at LRAFB total around $28 million – $7 million for a new headquarters building for the 463rd Airlift Group, $10 million for a C-130J corrosion-control facility, $7 million for a new dining facility and $3.9 million for a new child development center.

There will be a net gain of 22 airplanes and a possible 315 airmen at the base.

The additional $22.4 million in appropriations could be completed by October and should include money not just for a new runway but also for a new joint-education center, as well as money to modernize the base’s aerospace ground equipment and engine facility.

According to Lisa Ackerman, spokesperson for Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), the $109.2 billion fiscal year 2008 military construction and veterans affairs appropriations bill has little opposition in Congress and should be signed by Oct. 1, which marks the beginning of the fiscal year for the U.S. government.

But before the defense bill is sent to President Bush, both the Senate and the House of Representatives will meet in conference committees to reconcile the differences between the Senate and the House versions of the bill.

The big difference for LRAFB in the two bills is funding of the base’s joint-education center — the House bill includes $9.8 million for the project, but the Senate bill does not.

“The committee will negotiate the differences for the final version of the bill, and we are hopeful it will include both projects for Little Rock Air Force Base,” Ackerman said.

“Once it is conferenced, the bill is voted on by the Senate and the House and then it is signed by the president,” she added.
The Senate approved its version of the bill last Thursday, calling for a total of $12.6 million for improvements at LRAFB – $9.8 million to repair the 314th Airlift Wing’s aging airfield, and $2.8 million to modernize the aerospace ground equipment and engine facility on base.

The House passed its bill June 15, including $9.8 million for the Jacksonville/LRAFB education center. The city is contributing $5 million toward the center.

Although the House gave its blessing on funding a new flightline, that bill didn’t include money for it.

The Senate Armed Services subcommittee had stripped money for the education center from the Senate bill.


Current projects

The 463rd Airlift Group broke ground Aug. 30 for two new projects, a $7 million headquarters building and a $10 million C-130J corrosion-control facility, both of which support implementation of the base realignment and closure process (BRAC).
Under BRAC, the 463rd AG will be reorganized as an operational combat wing. Currently, the more than 1,200 airmen and 30 C-130s that comprise the 463rd AG report directly to Air Mobility Command, their parent command.

The new headquarters will encompass both the wing and maintenance-group leadership teams as they move to 52 C-130s and four flying squadrons.

There are three flying squadrons among the 463rd AG – the 41st, 50th and 61st Airlift squadrons.

The 41st AS is the base’s first combat-ready C-130J squadron and includes 150 aircrew and their families and 16 C-130Js.
To date, they have received four and will welcome their fifth J model Wednesday.

Once the 463rd AG becomes a wing, the fourth flying squadron will be the 53rd AS, which will go from a training squadron to an operations squadron.

The 463rd is also comprised of the following squadrons: the 463rd Operations Support Squadron, the 463rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, the 463rd Maintenance Operations Squadron, and the 30th Airlift Squadron, a detached unit located in Wyoming.

The new C-130J corrosion-control facility will improve the 463rd AG’s maintenance capability as they continue to fight the global war on terrorism, Col. Jeff Hoffer, 463rd AG commander, said.

Base improvements are also underway for a new $7 million Hercules Dining Facility that is scheduled to open in the spring of 2008. Construction began following a groundbreaking ceremony in February.

The 18,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility will replace the current dining facility, Razorback Inn, which was built in 1955, and will have a 60 percent increase in seating with a total seating capacity to accommodate 250 customers.

A new $3.8 million Child Development Center, located across from the Consolidated Support Facility building, is nearing completion.


Future projects

Once the $9.8 million is appropriated, the base could begin work to upgrade its runway, ensuring it is fully functional for the 314th Airlift Wing’s training missions and the 463rd AG’s combat missions.

The funding will allow the base to repair the deteriorated runway and shoulder pavements, remove or eliminate airfield obstructions, replace runway lighting, and reorganize instrument guidance and navigation systems.

The airfield was built in 1955 and is in a state of deterioration, which could adversely affect combat readiness and may endanger aircrew lives and aircraft assets.

The joint-education center, a first-of-its-kind collaboration between a community and a base, should receive $9.8 million in appropriations once the bill is passed. The center is expected to cost about $15 million; Jacksonville already has its part, $5 million, in the bank after residents taxed themselves in 2003 with a two-year penny sales tax.

The 50,000-square-foot center will be constructed on base property but outside the fence to make classes more accessible to civilians at times of high alert on base.

It is authorized as a multi-purpose educational facility that meets Air Force standards for distance learning, video teleconferencing and seminar needs.

LRAFB is also slated to receive $2.8 million to modernize its aerospace ground equipment and engine facility.


Aircraft

Air Force officials announced last year that under BRAC, Little Rock Air Force Base will increase the number of airplanes of Air Mobility Command (AMC) to 52 C-130s and four flying squadrons, an addition of 22 aircraft.

The 41st AS alone will receive 11 more C-130Js in the future, a total of about $550 million in new aircraft built by Lockheed Martin.

At a cost of about $50 million apiece for a new J model, about $12 million each for an E model, and just over $30 million for a C-130H model, the remaining 11 additional planes needed could cost anywhere from $132 million to $550 million, if new.
But with the 53rd AS, currently a training squadron, moving over to AMC this winter, their planes will likely move with them, thus eliminating the additional cost for 11 C-130 Hercules. The number of airmen on base will remain about the same, but Air Education and Training Command (AETC) will decrease the 314th AW’s aircraft to 24 C-130s and two flying squadrons – the 48th AS, which flies training missions on the C-130Js, and the 62nd AS, which trains on the C-130E.

In addition, AMC personnel at Little Rock AFB will increase by 1,346 and AETC will lose 1,302 people here.

Overall, the numbers reflect a net increase of about 315 airmen for the base.

But this number does not reflect gains and losses of family members.

When BRAC officials originally made their recommendations, the thought was that Little Rock AFB would become a single location for the U.S.’s active-duty C-130 force structure.