Friday, January 13, 2012

TOP STORY >> Avionics testing on hold at base

Leader senior staff writer

The Air Force has postponed tests of the first updated C-130 Avionics Modernization Program (AMP) planes, set to have begun Tuesday at Little Rock Air Force Base, a Boeing spokesman confirmed Thursday. (See editorial, p. 6A.)

Postponement of the initial evaluation is the first concrete indication — in advance of the 2013 defense budget — that the Pentagon plans to postpone or scrap the $4.4 billion modernization of the nation’s aging 222-plane C-130H fleet.


The test cancellation occurs just days after Warner Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia delivered the fourth such plane to the LRAFB, and with delivery of the fifth C-130 AMP due next month.

“The U.S. Air Force also notified Boeing that after the fifth C-130 AMP is delivered from Warner Robins to Little Rock in February 2012, future inductions are on hold,” said Boeing spokesman Jennifer Hogan. “We have been told that additional information will be shared after the President’s 2013 budget is published.”

Citing unnamed sources, Bloomberg News broke the story earlier this week that the program will be one of the larger cuts in the Air Force budget, accounting for about $2.2 billion by 2016. With successful testing, the Defense Department had been expected to award contracts for 26 planes under an initial production contract.


“We have so far seen the notice from the Air Mobility Command, which says that pending the release of the president’s budget and subsequent congressional action, the current training and evaluation is suspended,” Lt. Col. Keith Moore said Friday. Moore is spokesman for the 189th Airlift Wing of the Arkansas National Guard, which is known as the C-130 schoolhouse.

“Until later this month or in February, we won’t know where we stand or the status of the (AMP) program for next year,” he said.

LRAFB is the premiere C-130 center in the world, training virtually all C-130 pilots, crews and maintainers for the United States armed forces and allies.

The Pentagon had ordered six avionics modernization program kits for older model C-130 H aircraft, dating back to the mid-1970s that would extend their lives and make them more compatible with the state-of-the-art C-130Js. But amidst a move to downsize the armed forces and the Defense Department budget, the program is reportedly headed for the chopping block.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has proposed a leaner, more modern rapid response armed forces, but proponents of the AMP program say that’s precisely why the C-130 AMP should be a high priority, able to deliver war fighters, weapons and material quickly around the world even to short, dirt landing strips.


The AMP modifications replace analog controls and displays with digital, standardize the 30 different C-130 cockpit configurations and upgrade and standardize communication, navigation and air-traffic management, have a glass cockpit including so-called heads-up displays, night-vision imaging and will meet operational conditions.

They also reduce the size of the flight crew from five to four and make the cockpit compatible with that of the the state-of-the-art C-130J.

But C-130Js cost about $68 million each, while the AMP upgrade to the C-130H was expected to start at about $14 million and be reduced to about $7.5 million by the time the program reached full stride.

The Air Force moved to drop the troubled program in 2009, but was overruled by the Pentagon. This time around, the Pentagon apparently supports slowing or stopping the program.


“I oppose the cancellation of the C-130 AMP upgrades and will fight to ensure the men and women at LRAFB have the equipment they need to complete their mission,” Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Little Rock) said Friday.

Griffin, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, is co-founder of the bipartisan Congressional C-130 Modernization Caucus.

“LRAFB and its more than 80 C-130s provide our nation with critical combat and humanitarian airlift capabilities.,” Griffin said.

He said any decision to cancel future C-130 AMP upgrades was “shortsighted and ill-advised because these upgrades will extend the life of the C-130 fleet and save taxpayers money.”