Tuesday, February 28, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Big windfall for military?

Little Rock Air Force Base received its last C-130J Super Hercules on Monday when Maj. Gen. James B. Hecker, 19th Air Force commander, flew the newest version of the durable cargo plane to the air base and handed it over to the 314th Airlift Wing’s 62nd Airlift Squadron.

That brings the number of C-130Js on base to 41, with 13 assigned to the 314th AW and 28 C-130Js assigned to the 19th Airlift Wing.

There are also 19 older C-130Hs on base assigned to the Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing and the Reserves’ 913th Airlift.

The fleet of upgraded cargo planes — worth $3.1 billion — are built by Lockheed Martin for about $70 million each. Lockheed started making them in the 1990s, when the Air Force approved production of the ultramodern planes during an announcement by Clinton administration officials at Little Rock Air Force Base. We were present at the creation.

The C-130s are the longest continuously produced military aircraft in history. They have been flying all over the world since 1954.

Although no additional C-130s are in the pipeline for our air base, that could change with Monday’s announcement that the Trump administration is seeking a $54 billion increase in defense spending, or about a 10 percent boost. Production of the C-130Js has slowed — there are about 250 in the Air Force — but that number could pick up if more funds become available in the new defense budget following years of sequestration set by Congress.

The State Department, foreign aid and the Environmental Protection Agency could lose billions in funding. Congress will probably restore some of those cuts and demand cuts elsewhere, possibly Medicare and Medicaid, which will hurt many Arkansans. Expect a big fight ahead.

Any boost in defense spending should go toward pay raises for our enlisted men and women for all the hard work they do. Increasing the size of the Air Force, which is the smallest it’s been since its founding 70 years ago, would ease the burden on service members who have been deploying around the world since 9/11.