Tuesday, February 07, 2012

TOP STORY >> Base units thrive amid cuts

Leader executive editor

The commanders of the Air National Guard and the new Air Force Reserves unit at Little Rock Air Force Base said this week they’re confident their missions will thrive even with proposed cuts in the defense budget.

Col. Steve Eggensperger, commander of the 189th Airlift Wing, said that despite a hold on the avionics modernization program, his wing continues to operate at full strength with 790 airmen and is still looking to fill key positions with qualified high school graduates.

He expects to lose only one C-130 in the next five years.

“Little Rock Air Force Base will continue to provide global airlift,” the colonel said. “The 189th, in partnership with the Reserve unit, is responsible for legacy training.”

The 314th Airlift Wing has transitioned to an all-modern C-130J training unit. The 19th Airlift Wing, the host unit at the base, leads the global C-130J combat airlift mission.

Col. Edsel A. (Archie) Frye, who heads the new Air Force Reserve Command at the base, said the cuts announced at the Pentagon last week will mean possibly losing two C-130s assigned to the unit, but not not until 2017.

Despite the projected cuts, the new unit he’s building will have more than 700 Reservists. Half of the new hires will be full-time.

The 19th and the 314th Airlift Wings, the two largest units on base, have seen minor reductions. At year’s end, the base eliminated 41 civilian jobs and has retired some 20 young officers, but both the Reserves and Air National Guard are still recruiting new members with $20,000 signing bonuses, Eggensperger said.

Nationwide, the Air Force will eliminate 10,000 airmen and 65 C-130s.

20 C-130s

The 189th and the Reserve each have 10 legacy C-130s. The Guard has four planes that have been modified with new avionics, including new cockpit panels and extensive rewiring from Boeing, although the planes are now grounded.

Until last month’s cancellation, the new avionics were being installed at Warner Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia at a cost of at least $7.5 million each.

The AMP modifications re-place 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 state-of-the-art C-130J. The 19th and 314th Airlift Wings at the base are transitioning to all C-130Js.

The Air Force has also delivered a new simulator to train for the new avionics upgrades. Another simulator is scheduled for delivery soon and will be located in a new building, Eggensperger said.

He emphasized that if the avionics program is scrapped, the two simulators can be rewired for training on the older C-130s. The Air Force had planned to upgrade some 200 older planes, but the Pentagon will save $4 billion by cancelling the program.

The 189th had assigned eight crews with 100 maintainers — three from Arkansas and five from Missouri — to the avionics program before it was put on hold.

“We understand fiscal realities,” Eggensperger said. “There will be some turbulence and uncertainty, but we remain confident about our mission.”

He said when there’s another round of base closings, LRAFB will be on solid footing because it remains the C-130 center of excellence.

Eggensperger said the Guard has openings in several key areas.


Other than possibly losing two planes in five years, Frye said, “We don’t know of any other cuts in the foreseeable future.”

Frye, whose unit, 22nd Air Force Detachment 1, is being built from the ground up, said, “We’re continuing on schedule. The unit is replacing active-duty maintainers and flying instructor crews on the legacy C-130s as the active-duty training wing, the world-champion 314th Airlift Wing and transitions to the newer C-130J models.

He said, “Our maintainers and flight instructors are already integrating with the 314th to learn and perform the new mission. Other than losing two planes in five years, we don’t see any cuts in the foreseeable future.”

“We’re not programmed for reduction,” he added, although he concedes, “I can’t predict the future.”

“We’re gaining members daily,” he continued. “We’re extremely optimistic about being able to rapidly recruit all our members by 2014.”

Frye, who was named commander last February, has so far recruited 112 reservists, including maintainers, flight instructor crews and an all-civilian finance team.

They are spread out over several buildings around the base.

He praised the 189th AW as “our nation’s most highly decorated Air National Guard wing. All three wings on base have graciously made room for the fledgling Reserve unit. By 2014, the Reserve unit will associate with the 189th (lead wing) to train all legacy C-130 aircrews worldwide.

“It is our intention to build the best wing in Air Force history. We are committed to that vision,” he said.