Saturday, March 10, 2012

TOP STORY >> More airmen slated for LRAFB

Leader editor in chief

Little Rock Air Force Base could see gains of up to 1,100 airmen and get approval for a less expensive avionics upgrade of aging C-130s, which would allow them to fly longer.

While much of the Air Force is downsizing, including the Air National Guard’s 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith, a proposal in next fiscal year’s defense budget could mean a 6 percent increase in active-duty manpower at the base here.

Nationwide, the Air Force may eliminate 10,000 airmen and 65 C-130s. The Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing here could lose one C-130 and the new Reserves unit could lose two in the next five years.

The Air Force plans to send 370 active-duty airmen to the 19th Airlift Wing on base. This would be in addition to the Reserves unit forming here with 790 people. (See editorial, p. 6A.)

If approved, this plan could be implemented on Oct. 1, when the new budget goes into effect, according to 2nd Lt. Mallory Glass, 19th Airlift Wing public affairs chief.

The airmen would be a mix of transfers from other bases and new enlistments, she said.

Glass emphasized that this proposal is not set in stone.

“We’re still weighing in on those marching orders, as we like to call them. As the military restructures itself to be more fiscally responsible, we’re leading the way in that. People are being moved.”

Glass said the base doesn’t know yet where the airmen would be transferred from or what the economic impact would be on the base and the community.

But Glass said this would “invest in our future.”


Glass was echoing the views of Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, who recently told the Defense Writers Group that as budgets drop, the Air Force must concentrate on four basic areas: control of air and space, global mobility, global surveillance and reconnaissance and global strike.

“Those areas clearly remain relevant to the strategy that focuses on the Asia-Pacific and the (Persian) Gulf region,” Schwartz told reporters.

Because the service will be smaller, Schwartz said Air Force officials must have “more versatility in the force structure that remains, especially when it comes to surge requirements and overseas rotations.”

“That’s part of the rationale for the adjustments in the force mix that we proposed in the (fiscal year 2013) budget,” the general said.

Operations and maintenance funding will become a key aspect of this smaller force, Schwartz said, and will become more important in maintaining quality. It’s not enough for officials to say the Air Force is good, he added.

“We really have to be good,” he said.

Col. Brian Robinson, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, has been a player in worldwide global airlift. He was previously the executive assistant to Gen. Raymond Johns, the commander of Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

To reduce the budget, the Air Force has backed away from the ambitious and expensive avionics modernization program and is expected to opt instead for the less expensive communications, navigation and surveillance air traffic management system.

Schwartz said recently the Air Force could save about $4 billion by switching from the AMP and by reducing the number of conversions from 221 to 184.

The latest program could be installed for about $2.5 billion.

The older planes aren’t compliant with more demanding standards required by the Federal Aviation Agency by 2015 and throughout Europe and much of the rest of the world no later than 2017.

It’s a matter of safety as well as efficiency, especially in Europe, where air corridors are crowded. Without meeting the new standards, the older planes will have to fly around civilian air space.

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.

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.

The 189th and the Reserve unit 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 the cancellation earlier this year of the avionics modernization program, new parts 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 are transitioning to all C-130Js.

Leader staff writers John Hofheimer and Sarah Campbell contributed to this report.