Wednesday, March 09, 2005

TOP STORY>> Air Force favors keeping C-130Js

IN SHORT: Vice Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley has joined a top Marine general in calling for a review of the Pentagon’s decision to end the C-130J acquisition program, which, the generals say, would leave a hole in the nation’s ability to deliver troops and supplies where they are needed.

Leader Staff and News Service

A pair of studies currently underway are likely to demonstrate the need to reinstate C-130J production to the 2006 defense budget, a top Air Force general testified before the House Armed Services Committee late last week.

The Pentagon defense proposal would pull the plug on C-130J production in hopes of saving $5 billion. Little Rock Air Force Base is the premiere C-130 base in this country, responsible for virtually all flight and maintenance training.

Facilities here have been updated and expanded to prepare for the next generation of transport planes, the C-130J. The air base would get only a handful of new planes if the rest of the program is scrapped and would train far fewer C-130J pilots.

In his testimony before Congress, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force vice chief of staff, mentioned the 2005 mobility capability study and another by the joint chiefs of staff that the Air Force requested. “I think both of those will suggest we take another look at the C-130J,” said Moseley.

He said the Air Force has more than 500 C-130s. Two hundred are E models, more than 30 of which are grounded.

“And we’re looking at having to ground another 50 or so because of wing-spar and wing-box issues,” Moseley said.

On the other hand, the general said the C-130Js now in the field have a proven mission-capability rate of more than 95 percent.
The Pentagon hopes to free about $5 billion for the Army by cutting 51 Air Force-bound C-130Js—at an average cost of $83 million each—from the budgets between 2006 and 2011. Lockheed, which makes the planes, has delivered about 75 C-130Js to the U.S. military.

“We’ve got about 6,100 airplanes,” said Moseley, “and we’ve got about 2,200 airplanes that are either grounded or operating under some flight restriction.

“That flight restriction could be something very minimal. But, it could be something very significant, like the C-130Es, where we can’t carry the fuel, or we can’t carry the weight, or we can’t maneuver the airplane because of the wing box or the spar assembly (problems).”

Currently 35 of the workhorse transports assigned to Little Rock Air Force Base are either grounded or restricted, according to a base spokesman.

“We’re facing readiness challenges in a number of platforms,” Moseley said in his opening statement. “Our No. 1 challenge is to recapitalize aging systems.”

Also last week, Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones, Jr., commander of U.S. Command and Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that production of the C-130Js should continue.

Jones said the C-130J program was a much-needed program while he served as commandant of the Marine Corps because of the age of the C-130s in the fleet particularly during Operation Enduring Freeom.

He said it was only the skill of the pilots flying some very old aircraft that prompted him to elevate the C-130J program to the very top of the Marine acquisition objectives.

“The C-130Es are getting old,” Maj. Gen. William W. “Wayne” Hodges told members of LRAFB Community Council in January. “We’ll continue to modernize the avionics, but the metal is getting old.”

Hodges is chief of procurement for the Air Force airlift operations. He told the council the civilian supporters of the program would have to carry the fight to save the C-130Js.

Members of the Arkansas congressional delegation have been supportive of the program.

The Air Force Print News, John Hofheimer and Garrick Feldman contributed to this report.