Friday, May 8, 2009

Murky Waters for the Air National Guard

Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt, director of the Air National Guard, said  May 5 during a House Armed Services airland panel hearing that "to date, there are no firm plans" to mitigate ANG's looming fighter gap. The Air Guard, which handles the bulk of the homeland air sovereignty alert mission, will lose 80 percent of its F-16 fleet to age in less than eight years. Wyatt told the lawmakers that, currently, "the bulk of the Air National Guard recapitalization in the F-35 occurs in the out years, approaching 2022 and thereafter; most of our units age out in the 2017 to 2018 timeframe." And, Wyatt, pointed out that barring an accelerated replacement program, "You can expect more safety issues, failed inspections, less combat capability, and mission gaps." Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), panel chairman, asked Wyatt to provide the new plan anticipated with DOD's release of its 2010 budget, which happened on May 7. However, the publicly released documents and briefings offered no new information addressing the Air Guard's dilemma. On May 5, Wyatt said he believes USAF "has the capability" to rework its F-35 beddown plan to include earlier fielding to the Air Guard. He acknowledged, though, that "the numbers are extremely critical, and the rate of production is extremely critical." Wyatt still has not ruled out buying modernized legacy fighters. 
The above paragraph comes from Air Force Association's Daily Update.  The Air National Guard (ANG) in the beginning flew older airframes that had already been phased out of the active inventory.  The ANG was able to slowly change the state of the inventory from antiques to same aircraft as those flown by active duty.  The shift in airframes allowed the ANG to transition from a training reserve to a strategic reserve.  The last Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) harvested many of these newer airframes from the ANG to increase the numbers on active duty.  For example, the active duty Air Force had a larger number of older C-130E models compared to the newer C-130H and C-130J aircraft at ANG units.  The ANG bases or units with these newer airframes were closed.  

F-16s didn't present as critical a need for the USAF so more of these units remained in the ANG.  It appears now these units will be left with a huge gap.  Long before 9/11, the ANG had the responsibility of maintaining the air sovereignty of the United States.  The long delay in going from F-16 to F-35 will compromise the air sovereignty and security of the homeland.

I fear this trends means the ANG will one day cease to exist as we know it.  The ANG has demonstrated its ability to perform combat missions going back to the Vietnam War.  To lose this cost effective means of supplementing our air superiority is risky at best.

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