Friday, January 11, 2013

TOP STORY >> Griffin wants oversight of defense cuts

Leader publisher

Proposed cuts in defense spending may have a limited impact here, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Little Rock) said after visiting with commanders at Little Rock Air Force Base this week.

Pryor is hoping proposed cuts at the base will be “net neutral” if training expands here and overseas missions decrease as the United States withdraws from two wars in Southwest Asia.

The Pentagon has proposed moving 16 old C-130H cargo planes and cutting some 300 personnel from the 19th Airlift Wing, which would create a net loss here, Griffin said, even if the Guard and Reserves see increases and the 314th Airlift Wing gets no cuts.

Griffin also cited a push in Congress to add 36 C-130s to the transport fleet.

Pryor is optimistic that an additional flight simulator, along with a bigger role for the Air National Guard and Reserves, will boost the training mission here.

“Little Rock Air Force Base always comes out ahead during realignments,” said Pryor, who visited the base on Wednesday.

Griffin, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Leader on Friday that he is opposed to across-the-board cuts in military spending and wants congressional oversight to limit cuts to where spending is wasteful.

Griffin thinks defense spending needs to come down, but he says it’s unfair to punish programs that are working, such as the fleet of C-130s at the Jacksonville base that is “the leader for C-130 training and continues to be No. 1.”

Although President Obama and Congress avoided the so-called fiscal cliff when they worked out an agreement on taxes and some spending cuts, sequestration — or forced cuts in the defense budget — could be back on the table in a couple of months.

“Little Rock Air Force Base can stand on its own merit, while there are bases that don’t do as well. Let’s spend money on what works,” Griffin said in an interview.

“Little Rock Air Force Base will be fine in this time of cuts,” Griffin said. “The Guard and Reserves are getting substantial increases.”

“Across-the-board cuts affect everybody,” he added. “We should provide specifics of what’s not working and leave centers of excellence alone.

“Our greatest threat is the national debt. We knew everybody would be impacted,” he continued. “We knew defense cuts were coming. We need targeted cuts for programs that don’t work.”

He said congressional committees should have oversight “to determine which programs are working. The House and Senate need to be proactive and identify inefficiencies.”

Griffin cited one report that identified $170 billion in wasteful defense spending. For example, he called the proposed alternative engine for the F-35 fighter jet wasteful, while C-130s, some of them 50 years old, deliver good value for every dollar spent.

Pryor and Griffin received briefings from commanders and community leaders. Pryor visited the new security operations center, which was recently built for $10.4 million.

Pryor noted the growth of the new 22nd Reserves Wing on base, which has some 300 personnel and 10 C-130s.

He is also hopeful the Air Force will revive the Avionics Modernization Program, which is now on hold.

The program would add modern avionics equipment to older C-130s for $7 million per plane, a fraction of the cost of a new C-130J.

Five older planes have been upgraded and are with the National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing at the base.

Pryor said the addition of more C-130Js on base will also enhance the C-130 mission because the new plane can carry more personnel and cargo.

The base trains thousands of airmen from the United States and some 40 foreign nations.

To cut the military budget this year by as much as $60 billion, the Pentagon has eliminated 30,000 positions and retired nearly 1,900 aircraft, according to Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley.

More cuts are on the way, the secretary said.

The size of the Air Force will fall to 329,000, the smallest force since the service started in 1947.

Pryor realizes that spending cuts are inevitable as Washington must find ways to balance the federal budget and address the deficit.

“The military budget is declining, and we have to stretch our dollars. We have to do more with less,” the senator said.