Saturday, May 03, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Upgrading old planes

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) told us recently that the on-again, off-again avionics modernization program for the older C-130s is on again.

That’s good news for Little Rock Air Force Base, which still has more than 50 aging C-130H cargo planes, along with 31 late-model C-130Js. The new planes cost about $70 million. The 10 C-130Js slated for delivery to Little Rock from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., would raise the total of C-130Js at the base to 41.

Active-duty pilots at LRAFB may be flying only the state-of-the-art C-130Js by the end of September. But the Pentagon has wisely restarted the previously discontinued program to modernize the legacy C-130Hs with new, digital avionics, communications and navigation equipment, Pryor said.

The C-130Hs have been around since the 1960s, so remodeling them for $9-$14 million apiece is a real bargain. It’s like restoring old Mustangs: They’re classics and will run forever with a new motor. The old planes need new wiring and computerized navigation systems and could fly for another 20 years.

Pryor told us the avionics-modernization program, dropped in the last budget because it was too expensive, will have a $47.3 million infusion to begin upgrading the navigation and communications systems again. C-130 AMP improvements include a fully integrated, night-vision-goggle compatible, digital glass cockpit and new digital avionics that increase situational awareness and enhance safety. It’s technical, but it makes sense.

If the active duty 19th and 314th Airlift Wings are all C-130Js all the time, the older model C-130Hs will be decommissioned or transferred to National Guard and Air Force Reserve units around the country — including those at LRAFB.

Boeing was the manufacturer of the AMP kits installed on the five C-130H aircraft here when the plug was pulled on the program in 2012. The C-130s are manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

Four more kits, manufactured but not installed, are currently at Warner Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia.

In addition to $47.3 million for the continuation of the C-130 AMP program, Pryor said $22.4 billion will be spent on C-130J programs, $8.7 million for C-130J modifications, $1 billion for dual-equipment Guard and Reserve units, and about $100 million for the C-130 propulsion-system engine upgrades and system propeller upgrades.

“I’m also working on a bill called the Military Commissary Sustainment Act,” he told us. Under the current budget proposal, “subsidies for nearly all of our commissaries would be cut. My bill would prohibit the Department of Defense from making these cuts until a commission releases its 2015 report.”

Pryor’s work in behalf of the air base will help the mission grow and we are grateful for that.