Tuesday, August 05, 2014

TOP STORY >> Air Force will decide future of old C-130s

Leader senior staff writer

The venerable C-130 turns 60 this month as Congress and the Pentagon ponder its future.

That future is bright for the state-of-the-art C-130J Super Hercules, but most of the 400-plus Air Force C-130s are the legacy models — some dating back to Vietnam. Unless upgrades are made soon, those planes will be grounded.

As big a problem as this is for active-duty C-130 units like Little Rock’s 19th and 314th Airlift Wings, it could hamstring Air Guard and Reserve units too, which generally fly only the C-130H.

Without upgrades to communication, navigation, surveillance and air traffic management systems by 2020, Air Force Reserve and National Guard Units, including the 189th Airlift Wing at Little Rock, will be “out of business,” Arkansas Adjutant General William Wofford said recently.

The C-130 first took to the skies on Aug. 23, 1954, just half a century after the Wright Brothers’ historic flight at Kitty Hawk. That first C-130 flew from Burbank, Calif., to Edwards Air Force Base.

That year, President Dwight Eisenhower started the interstate highway system, black-and-white televisions were just making their way into middle class homes and Marilyn Monroe divorced Joe DiMaggio.

The C-130 is the Swiss Army knife of aircraft, used for everything from transporting soldiers and supplies to the front, to humanitarian relief, spreading retardant or water on forest fires, hunting hurricanes, and as gunships and refuelers.

Even with 71 more C-130Js expected by 2020, most of the old planes will not meet new FAA and international regulations for enhanced navigation, communication, surveillance and air traffic management.

In May, LRAFB had 31 C-130Js and approximately 50 C-130H models, a spokesman said. Those include the planes assigned to the 19th Airlift Wing and the 314th Airlift Wing of the active duty Air Force, as well as the 189th Airlift Wing of the Arkansas National Guard and a new Air Force Reserve Unit that was stood up on the base.

At one time, the Air Force had planned to upgrade 221 legacy C-130s with digital Avionics Modernization Pro-gram kits to keep them flying past the 2020 deadline.

The Pentagon and Congress stopped funding the AMP program.

But there is budget language that will not allow them to totally shut it down or replace it with another system.


Now, even some former proponents of the AMP program, such as Second Dist. Rep. Tim Griffin, are having second thoughts, especially after hearing from the members of the Adjutants General Association — and from Arkansas Adjutant Gen. William Wofford in particular.

“I worked to not drop the AMP and advocated on its behalf,” as a means of keeping the Arkansas Air Guard and Reserves flying, Griffin said.

But, in May, he wrote at the request of Wofford to Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, asking for consideration of the Automatic Dependant Surveillance Broadcast-Out Capability, or ADSB-Out, now championed by the adjutant general and others.

“Delays (in implementing the AMP) have been so long,” Griffin said, “there are now more inexpensive options that do a lot of what the AMP does. Not being a pilot, I rely on General Wofford and folks at Little Rock Air Force Base. There is pretty widespread agreement that AMP was the way several years ago, but not now.”

Objections of the Air Guard and Reserve leadership focused on the viability of the alternative, Griffin said.


“A vote for the AMP program is not a vote for the Air National Guard,” according to retired Col. Harold Eggensperger, former commander of the 189th Air Wing.

He said the Coast Guard, Canadian and other military C-130 fleets meet requirements with off-the-shelf communications, navigation, surveillance, air-traffic management kits for about a quarter of the cost of AMP and with a much faster turnaround.

He said the less expensive ADSB-Out, estimated to cost only 25 percent of the AMP, would save money to buy more C-130Js.

While Griffin now favors the ADSB, “We don’t want (AMP authorization) dropped until we have the alternative in place. Don’t stop one until you know where you are going,” the congressman said.

In his April 30 letter to Griffin, Wofford wrote, “I respectfully request you support language that will remove the Avionics Modernization Program as the program of record for C-130 aircraft modernization as well as support language to revisit the Active Duty C-130J distribution plan to ensure continued seamless total force integration.”

Translation: We want some of those fine C-130Js in our units, too.

Wofford cited the FY13 Institute for Defense Analysis study calling for “a more cost- effective, reduced-scope program.”

He noted that the AMP has proven to be a “costly, outdated solution mired in delays. It has only delivered a handful of aircraft.”

All five of those are grounded at Little Rock Air Force Base because the Pentagon no longer supports the AMP.