Tuesday, April 08, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Consolidate at LRAFB

Pentagon officials recently told Congress they plan to move at least 10 new C-130Js to Little Rock Air Force Base as they consolidate their C-130 fleet, retire older C-130s and eliminate more expensive planes, such as the A-10 fighter jet fleet.

Air bases in Mississippi and the Carolinas will lose important missions, but the new austerity measures will benefit the Jacksonville base as the Air Force trims waste and cuts spending. Putting planes in a more central location such as ours will save the Air Force billions of dollars.

The new C-130Js would move here from Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi instead of going to Pope Field in North Carolina. Their congressional delegations aren’t too happy about that.

The number of C-130s at LRAFB could rise to 95, with 41 of them C-130Js and about 50 more the older C-130H models. We could still lose a dozen older C-130Hs and 60 reservists, but overall, the C-130 mission remains sound and could keep growing, especially with the Reserves getting the new planes and up to 700 airmen.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which heard testimony from top Air Force leaders last Wednesday, said plans to beef up the Jacksonville base were “music to his ears.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh told the appropriations committee, “Little Rock is the home of tactical airlift to us.” Tactical airlift, delivering cargo and personnel into combat, “is one of the gems of the U.S. Air Force, and what we are trying to do is make it more efficient in ways that we can,” the general said.

Pryor told our John Hofheimer on Friday, “I’m glad we can all agree that Little Rock Air Force Base is truly a ‘gem’ — not only to our military, but to Arkansas at large.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who also sits on the appropriations committee and whose state will lose the A-10 mission, is not happy. “I understand, General Welsh, the dilemma you face. I mean, you didn’t pass sequestration, we did.”

This is what sequestration will get you, Sen. Graham. Listen to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, who told the committee, “We have too many C-130s in inventory. We’re looking to reduce the number — to keep the newer ones and retire the older ones, moving things around.”

“My vision is a smaller, highly capable, innovative, ready and a good value to taxpayers,” she added.

Do you want more some straight talk from the top? Lt. Gen. James Jackson said the Air Force was working on a comprehensive C-130 plan. “We have 11 reserve locations and want to find where we can consolidate. The number of C-130s assigned to reserve bases is being pared down from 104 to 66 and being located where we can get the most benefit.”

“Little Rock is the location that would be a good place to consolidate,” he said, noting it already had the C-130J and C-130H schoolhouses, the two active duty squadrons, the Air Force Reserve Squadron and the Arkansas Air National Guard.

There is additional pressure to find more savings. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Dardanelle), who is running against Pryor, wants to cut the number of civilian employees in the military by 15 percent. That could mean 80 jobs lost at Little Rock Air Force Base — unless the mission here continues to grow.

Here’s hoping a leaner Air Force will mean a flightline in our backyard filled with 100 C-130s, ready to take off at a moment’s notice. Because when Madame Secretary James talks of a good value to taxpayers, we couldn’t agree more: LRAFB has delivered good value for 60 years, and the Air Force knows it.