Wednesday, November 22, 2006

TOP STORY >>Push on for more C-130Js

Leader staff writer

Sen. Mark Pryor and Reps. Vic Snyder and Marion Berry are among the more than 30 legislators wanting to know the Pentagon’s plan for the C-130J cargo aircraft from Lockheed Martin, including those bound for Little Rock Air Force Base.

“We are very much in favor of extending the C-130J program,” said Michael Teague, spokesman for Sen. Pryor. “I signed the letter to the Secretary of Defense,” Snyder said, “asking how the department plans to meet our airlift requirements. The C-130J is proving itself, and I would expect that the new Congress will take a good look at the program and our airlift requirements.”

Little Rock Air Force Base is projected to get 14 C-130Js as the 463rd Airlift Group becomes the 463rd Airlift Wing, under the direction of Air Mobility Command. The base currently has seven C-130Js in the 48th Airlift Squadron as part of the Air Education Training Command’s (AETC) training program for pilots and crews.

“Little Rock Air Force Base is home to the largest C-130 fleet in the world. While the Marine Corps and Air Force have future plans for a strong C-130 presence, I remain committed to working with my colleagues to make Little Rock Air Force Base and its operations even stronger. For that reason, I signed the letter to the Department of Defense to ensure that our tactical airlift and tanker fleets remain viable for the future,” Berry said.

The letter sent by the Senate seeks information on how the Pentagon plans to meet the Marine Corps’ and Air Force’s C-130 requirements beyond those in the current contract. The Air Force contract to buy 39 of the $65 million C-130Js from Lockheed Martin will expire in 2008. Recently, it was changed from a commercial contract to a traditional military contract. The change was necessary to comply with the fiscal year 2006 National Defense Authorization Act and is estimated to save the Air Force $168 million, roughly about $4.3 million per plane.

The Senate’s letter to the Pentagon calls the C-130J “the crown jewel in today’s tactical air mobility fleet” and voices concerns about the age of the older versions of the plane.
“More than half of the combat delivery C-30s are 30 years old or older with some of the fleet now being hampered by significant operational restrictions. Although their longevity is clearly a testament to the value of these aircraft, we are very concerned that the existing fleet continues to age at an alarming rate without an apparent long-term solution,” the letter reads.

Last year, the Air Force grounded nearly a fourth of its 450-plane C-130 fleet after cracks were found where the wings meet the fuselage in the 40-year old C-130 E and 20-year old H models.

There are 15 C-130Es grounded at LRAFB. Of the planes at LRAFB AETC’s 53rd and 62cnd Airlift Squadrons have 45 C-130E cargo aircraft. AMC’s 61st Airlift Squadron has 30 of the C-130Es. The Arkansas Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Group has 10 C-130H models at the base.

In 2004, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tried to get the C-130J contract cancelled because of costs. It is not yet known Robert Gates, the nominee to replace Rumsfeld, will support extending the C-130J contract.