Friday, March 16, 2012

TOP STORY >> Pryor, Griffin: Let’s upgrade older C-130s

Leader senior staff writer

Avionics upgrades to older C-130s or no avionics upgrades, the future and the mission of Little Rock Air Force Base is secure, two members of the Arkansas congressional delegation said this week.

“There is nothing that’s going to call into question the primacy of LRAFB as the premiere C-130 base in the world,” according to Second Dist. Rep. Tim Griffin, even if the Air Force replaces the avionics modernization program with a less-expensive conversion.

“Regardless of the outcome of the AMP program, the future of Little Rock Air Force Base is secure,” Sen. Mark Pryor said.

In President Obama’s proposed 2013 budget, the Air Force wants to permanently chock the wheels on the decades-old, but just-being-implemented AMP, designed to bring aging C-130s into the 21st century with a digital cockpit and replace it with a less ambitious, less expensive upgrade.

Upgrade to meet

The Air Force must modernize its communications and navigation systems on the legacy C-130s to meet FAA standards and European standards or the planes will be excluded from many of the best and most efficient air lanes.

The Defense Department’s proposed 2013 budget closes out the C-130 AMP conversions with the installation of a fifth AMP kit, while providing $647 million toward the alternative, the communications, navigation, surveillance air-traffic management (CNS/ATM) program, according to Jennifer Cassidy, a Pentagon public affairs officer.

That program won’t have to be developed from scratch. Other Mobility Air Force aircraft, such as the KC-135 and KC-10, have a CNS/ATM program, according to Cassidy. The KC-10 has started the research and development phase of their program, while the KC-135 has completed its CNS/ATM program.

Demand answers

“After reviewing the Air Force’s proposal, the delegation and I joined forces to demand answers from the Department of Defense about their decision to eliminate the C-130 AMP program at Little Rock Air Force Base,” Pryor said.

“We need to make decisions that make economic and strategic sense, and I believe the AMP program is a cost-effective way to maintain the life of our aircraft.

“I believe in our C-130 mission,” Griffin said. “I like to talk about the Little Rock difference. I see nothing but continuing strength and growth for Little Rock Air Force Base. It’s so critical to everything we do, both on national security and emergency humanitarian response.”

He said the C-130 was “so capable and critical to basic function of the military. We’ll do everything we can to keep it so.”

In the proposed fiscal year 2013 budget, the Air Force terminates C-130 AMP and initiates a less complex/lower cost modification program titled, “Optimize Legacy C-130 Communication, Navigation and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM),” according to Cassidy.

Solicit proposals

The process would be the same as any other modification program for fair and open competition, she said. “The request for proposals will go out soliciting proposals for source selection. Development and testing phase will begin upon anticipated contract award in fiscal year 2014.”

The cost of converting another 221 C-130H aircraft to the AMP would be an estimated $4.1 billion, beginning in 2013 through the end of the program, Cassidy said.

The proposed 2013 budget contains $76.5M in research and development funding and $570.5M in procurement funding for the CNT/ATM alternative, she said.

But both Griffin and Pryor say its still to early to blow taps over the AMP program. “We’re still trying to get facts about this and figure it out,” Griffin said. “It’s my responsibility to do my own separate analysis.”

“I met with (Arkansas Air National Guard) pilots 189 at the base about AMP, potential alternatives, the pluses and minuses,” Griffin said. AMP gets rid of the navigator slot, which CNS/AMT doesn’t, he said. He has asked the Air Force for the costs of training, paying and retiring those navigators, but they’ve not yet provided that or other information he has asked for.

“I’ve got to believe that big decisions that have billions of dollars at stake are made based on thoughtful analysis and lots of research,” Griffin said.

Trust and verify

“It doesn’t seem we are asking for things that don’t already exist. It may be there’s a clear conclusion we can all agree on,” he added. “Trust and verify.”

The congressman said the Air Force talked about saving $2 billion. “There’s no doubt there’s some sort of cost savings in terms of electronics and capability. But once you include additional personnel cost of AMP light...The Air Force says they consider training and retirement costs, but we haven’t seen the data.”

Little Rock Air Force Base is home to 27 state-of-the-art C-130J transports, and eventual plans call for 134 of them throughout the military. But meanwhile, the Air Force wants to upgrade between 184 and 221 of the older planes.

“The capability of AMP light are substantially reduced,” he said, but “the president’s budget is just a conversation starter. It’s not definitive. What the Armed Services Committee thinks will probably win the day.”

Griffin said he thinks they can find other places in the defense budget to make cuts.

The fifth and final C-130 AMP is due to be completed and delivered to Little Rock sometime this month, Cassidy said. “No additional initial operational testing and evaluation for the C-130 AMP is planned, pending program termination approval.”

For now, those five planes are grounded.

“CNS/ATM will upgrade the avionics systems on the 184 Combat Delivery C-130s so that they will be able to meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) CNS/ATM mandate that starts Jan. 1, 2020. This program will ensure that our legacy C-130 fleet is modernized to ensure global access,” according to Cassidy.

By then, a majority of the 184 aircraft will have completed the upgrade. The Air Force will develop mitigation strategies for aircraft that have not completed the CNS/ATM upgrade by that date, she said.