Wednesday, March 30, 2005

TOP STORY >> General to fly new C-130J to air base

IN SHORT: Despite defense cuts, LRAFB will get its second new plane, with more scheduled for May, June, October, November and December.
By John Hofheimer
Leader staff writer

With Lt. Gen. John R. Baker, vice commander of the Air Mobility Command, at the stick, Little Rock Air Force Base’s second C-130J should touch down on Tuesday, with five more to follow before the end of the year, according to 2nd Lt. Jon Quinlan.

Additional planes are scheduled to arrive in May, June, October, November and December, he said.
Currently the base has one J-model of its own and two on loan from reserve units.

The U.S. military already has received 50 of the 117 planes in the original order with Lockheed- Martin, but the proposed Pentagon budget would pull the plug on most of the rest, diverting about $5 billion in alleged savings to the Army, according to Cong. Vic Snyder.

Published reports put the cost of each plane between $63 million and $83 million
The Defense Department submitted a 2006 budget that phased out C-130J purchases, but the fleet of C-130s is aging without a suitable substitute in sight. Thirty of the older planes were grounded last month and another 60 were put on restricted duty.

Adding to the uncertainty, the Defense Department this week took over major acquisition responsibilities—temporarily, it said—from the Air Force.

Neither Snyder, D-Little Rock, nor Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Little Rock, would speculate what effect that change would have upon the C-130J acquisition program.

The Defense Department has scrutinized Air Force acquisitions since procurement chief Darleen A. Druyan showed Boeing favoritism, then took a job with the defense contractor. Air Force Secretary James G. Roche and acquisitions chief Marvin R. Sambur resigned over a rigged Boeing air tanker contract last year.

Then Undersecretary Peter B. Teets—the acting secretary—retired last week.
Asked if this were a power grab by the Defense Department or a way to derail Air Force acquisitions the Pentagon didn’t like, a spokes-man for Pryor said that was one of several possibilities.

“One (reason) could very well be their dislike of some of these programs,” said Rodell Mollineau, a Pryor spokesman. “Another is (that the takeover is) a response to the way the Air Force handled the Boeing tanker incident.”

“The Air Force is without several of its top civilian leaders, and oversight has to come from somewhere,” he added.

“At this point, we take the Department of Defense at its word when they say this is a temporary takeover, and we urge the president to nominate a new secretary of the Air Force quickly so that the Air Force may resume its acquistion oversight role,” Mollineau said.
Snyder said he didn’t know why the Defense Department took the step. But he doesn’t think it bodes ill for the C-130J.

“I’m very optimistic that it’s going to be retained," said Snyder. “Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld has said very clearly that he’s revisiting the decision to cut the program.”

Snyder said several top Air Force generals had made very strong statements about the C-130J. They’ve apparently been given more the latitude to keep the plane.

“I’m confident that the J is an important part of the future of moving people and materials in the wars of the future,” Snyder said.

The Department of Defense announced March 25 “that to ensure continuity of program oversight during this time of transition with a new acting secretary of the Air Force, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technolo-gy and Logistics Michael Wynne has designated all major defense acquisition programs managed by the Air Force and designated ACAT (acquisition category) 1C programs to temporarily be placed under his authority.”

Wynne will work with acting Secretary of the Air Force Michael L. Dominguez until oversight of these programs is returned to the Air Force.

Initial concern that a freeze on a new C-130J simulator for Little Rock Air Force Base foreshadowed the end of the program has eased with the knowledge that all unawarded construction contracts throughout the military apparently have been put on hold until the next round of base closings is completed, according to Snyder.

He said it was reasonable to stop spending for construction on bases until Congress decides which bases will be closed this year.