Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

TOP STORY >>Air Force rethinks reducing strength

Leader staff writer

Hoping to improve its aging aircraft, the Air Force decided back in 2002 to cut its forces by 40,000 and use the money saved to improve its planes. But now military officials are saying continuing the personnel cuts in 2008 doesn’t make sense because of the high level of cooperation among the services.

According to Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force chief of staff, the biggest reason to stop the drawdown is the projected growth of the Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 members over the next several years.

The Air Force would have to add personnel to support those ground forces, Moseley said.

Officials must now decide whether or not to stop next year’s reductions and leave the Air Force with about 328,000 airmen, instead of dropping down to 316,000.

As of September, according to the Air Force Personnel Center web site, there were 328,808 people on active duty in the Air Force – 65,436 officers and 263,372 enlisted.

There are about 6,014 active- duty airmen, both officers and enlisted, at Little Rock Air Force Base; a payroll total of $281.2 million, according to the base’s economic impact analysis for Fiscal Year 2006.

Under Base Realignment and Closure, LRAFB will have a net increase of 315 airmen.

It was Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne’s idea to voluntarily downsize and restructure the force in order to gain the funds to recapitalize the asset base (the aircraft).

But Wynne himself admitted the idea wasn’t working and the only thing happening was the rate at which Air Force aircrafts were racing toward their retirement dates.

“This can’t go on,” he said. “At some time in the future, they will simply rust out, age out, fall out of the sky. We need, somehow, to recapitalize this force.”

The C-130s have been around for over 50 years; the A model debuted in 1956.

The C-130E, of which there are about 47 in use at Little Rock (31 of which are used for training missions), have been around since the 1960s.

Col. Mark Vlahos, 314th Airlift Wing vice commander, said that al-though the C-130E models are the “battle-tested workhorses of combat airlift,” they are phased out when they reach retirement age.

It’s Air Force policy to limit aging C-130s to training missions once they reach 38,000 flight hours and retire them at 45,000 hours.

The base also has about 14-H models that have been around since the 1970s.

The C-130J, the latest version, appeared in the 1990s, but Little Rock didn’t see one until March 2004. There are currently 11 J models in use at Little Rock, seven for training purposes.

“The C-130J is a living example of recapitalization – a technologically advanced platform that climbs faster and higher, flies farther at a higher cruise speed and takes off and lands in a shorter distance – and it requires only three crew members for most missions as opposed to a crew of five for older models,” Vlahos said.

The J’s speed and flexibility allow airmen to impact the battlefield with its ability to deliver people and cargo, Vlahos said.

“As we continue to modernize and downsize, we are constantly utilizing technology to replace legacy processes, just like any large corporation does,” Vlahos said.

In a report titled “C-130J: How the best military aircraft became even better,” Dr. Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute writes that replacing engines and stressed structural elements in the older C-130s would cost well over $40 million per airframe and when completed, would yield a fleet of doubtful longevity and dependability.

“For less than twice the cost of fixing old planes, new C-130Js could be bought with far better performance features, multi-decade life expectancies and superior readiness rates,” Thompson said.

“Thus, from a cost-effectiveness standpoint, it appears there is no practical alternative to replacing aging C-130s with the latest variant of the plane.”