Leader Blues

Monday, January 21, 2008

TOP STORY >> Base growing, not contracting

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Despite a misleading report on a local television station Wednesday, the future of Little Rock Air Force Base, the premiere C-130 air transport base in the world, is expanding, not contracting and certainly not threatened with closure, officials agree.

The misunderstanding apparently occurred through a misinterpretation of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley’s release of a report Wednesday that did not include Little Rock as among the six bases being considered to host the C-27 Spartan, a new, smaller joint-force cargo airlifter that the Air Force and the Army will buy.

“The TV station got it wrong,” said Lisa Ackerman, a spokesperson for Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. “It’s not the end of the air base.”

She said that although some people had hoped Little Rock Air Force Base might host the C-27, it was always a long shot.
“The C-130 program, including the new J-model, is of great importance to the Air Force, and Little Rock Air Force Base is the key to the success of that mission,” Cong. Vic Snyder said Friday. “While all of us who love this base and its great people would love to see the joint cargo aircraft come to Arkansas, it is not a surprise that at this point the Air Force seems to be going a different direction. The expanding numbers of planes already scheduled to come to LRAFB and the increasing possibility of further purchases of J-models for the Air Force probably contributed to this early decision to keep LRAFB primarily a C-130 base.”

Far from withering way, Little Rock Air Force Base trains virtually all C-130 crews of every stripe from all U.S. forces and 31 nations.

“The base is not at all threatened,” Ackerman said, “and appears to be in growth mode. The mission isn’t going away.”
The U.S. military has no aircraft in the pipeline to replace the C-130, which is at the heart of the base’s mission and is ordering new C-130Js at a brisk clip.

She said the recent inclusion in the Defense Department’s military construction budget of $20 million in runway rehabilitation and for the new Air Base/Jacksonville Joint Education Center only underscores the Air Force’s commitment to the base.
She said that about 75 of the joint-cargo Airlifters will be ordered for the Army and 40 more for the Air Force. She said Pryor would try to direct some of the Army planes to Camp Robinson.

Despite an overall reduction in the Air Force, Little Rock Air Force Base continues in growth mode, Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz said Tuesday. Schatz is base commander of the 314th Air Education Command at LRAFB.

While the number of Air Force members has dropped from 340,000 to 320,000 in recent years, the most recent round of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) will have redirected between 200 and 400 additional personnel to the base by over three years, along with 15 additional C-130s.

Several new C-130J airlifters will be headed to the base as they roll off the assembly lines, reversing efforts of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield.

Attempts to reach the base public affairs Thursday and Friday for an update were unsuccessful, with no one answering the phone and an announcement that the voice mail was full.