may revive production
indefinite grounding Friday of older C-130s at Little Rock Air Force
Base and elsewhere could be the impetus needed to override the Pentagon
decision to stop production of the C-130J, the latest model.
By John Hofheimer
Leader staff writer
===The grounding and flight
restriction by the Air Force Friday of a large number of older C-130Es
for possible wing cracks may provide an opening big enough to fly a
new C-130J through, according to some members of the Arkansas congressional
=== Production of the C-130J, the latest
incarnation of the venerable warhorse transport plane that has carried
men, munitions and other cargo in operations dating back to the Vietnam
conflict, was cut almost completely out of President Bush's 2006 defense
budget. The Air Force has 32 of those planes built by Lockheed-Martin
and was expecting another 42, but they're now on hold. The base has
three, two of them on loan.
=== Now, with a large percentage of C-130Es,
some 40 years old, grounded or reserved for conditional use, Senators
Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln and Congressman Vic Snyder say the Pentagon
and the president may be reconsidering.
=== At Little Rock Air Force Base alone,
15 of the 75 C-130s are grounded pending inspection and repair and another
22 are restricted regarding the weight of the load they can carry, according
to Tech Sgt. Vicki Johnson, a spokesperson.
=== Virtually all C-130 flight, maintenance
and ground crews for all branches of the U.S. military are trained at
the base. In recent years, the Air Force has been preparing the base
to train C-130J crews. "In the Senate Armed Services Committee in the
last few days, Gen. Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, says the Pentagon
is rethinking those cuts," according to Pryor.
=== "Curtailing the production could cost
more than they anticipated," Pryor said. He cited the cost of maintaining
an older, less efficient fleet and the need to modify other aircraft.
=== "A lot more cost involved," said Pryor.
Sen. Warner of the Armed services Committee was "astonished at the notion
to cut back production."
=== "There's not much savings (in discontinuing
the program)," said Snyder, and other than the C-130J, there's nothing
else in the research and development pipe-line to move men, munitions
and other cargo onto fairly short, rough air strips in current or possible
theaters of operations.
=== "Anything else is years away in development,"
=== "The Air Force decision to ground aging
C-130s only amplifies the need to accelerate production of the newer
C-130Js," Lincoln said Tuesday. "I will continue working with the entire
Arkansas congressional delegation to ensure that modernization of the
C-130 fleet moves forward with a new degree of urgency. The vital role
performed by C-130s in airlifting supplies to our troops in Iraq and
Afghanistan should be testimony enough to the value of Little Rock's
airlift training wing."
=== "There is no other vehicle on the drawing
board that would replace the C-130," said Pryor. "It has a lot of capabilities‹it
can take off and land on short air strips, carry heavy loads, fly low
and for huge distances. If we cut the (C-130J)program completely we
don't have the capability. If we're moving toward a lighter, more agile,
more lethal force, the C-130J is the perfect delivery vehicle (for putting
troops and material into war zones.)"
=== "When they announced they wanted to
cut it out, it didn't make any sense," Pryor said.
=== The C-130 was the last plane out of
Saigon and the first plane into Baghdad. "The Pentagon has no fall back.
The C-130E has been a very good aircraft, but it's reached its age and
=== The C-130J has all new avionics, is
more fuel efficient, flies higher and faster with a smaller crew and
because it's new, it requires much less maintenance, Pryor said.
=== "The bean counters in the Pentagon
don't always understand the strategic needs. We need to make sure we're
meeting strategic needs and logistical needs."
===Pryor said we may have the best equipped,
best trained soldiers in the world, but "If we can't get them to the
theater, it won't do much good. The C-130 is the key delivery vehicle.
"If they do cut the program, in a very few years, we'll regret that."
=== Which C-130s to ground and restrict
was determined by using a mathematical formula that factored in each
airframe's age, hours flown and nature of the missions, said Johnson,
the base spokesperson. "Some aircraft have experienced severe cracking
in certain fatigue-critical locations of the wing.
=== The increase in the number of cracks
and the severity of the cracking caused engineers to reevaluate the
service life expectancy of the center wing box," Johnson said. Johnson
said the 22 planes currently restricted in use could be used for aircrew
training and proficiency flying, including limited low-level flying
and airdrop. "This is all safety driven," said Capt. John Sheets.
=== "People are the primary asset. Aircraft
are secondary. You can still look out over the skies of Arkansas and
see the C-130 doing its training mission," Sheets said.