View Full Version : Air-Defense Collapse: Blame for Everyone

06-25-05, 05:11 AM
Air-Defense Collapse: Blame for Everyone
By Paul Connors

It has been more than a month since the 2005 BRAC attack took place the release of the Pentagon's proposed base closures and unit realignments and I've spent that time assessing what the proposals will mean for our future defense posture.

As someone who has watched military developments quite closely for all of my adult life, I was not surprised by the official DoD recommendations released on May 13, 2005. Given Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's record of bias against the reserve components, there is no surprise at the list, which constitutes additional groundwork for the SecDef's plan to convert the various reserve components into nothing more than a vast replacement pool for the active force.

Of course, there are some closures and realignments that will effect active force bases and units. and there will be some infrastructure conversions, but the bulk of the closures 65.4 percent of the total will hit hardest at National Guard and reserve facilities. The hardest blow will fall on the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve, where aging airframes and a lack of funding for new acquisitions and maintenance throw the retention of a large fleet of legacy fighter, transport and refueling aircraft into doubt.

And Rumsfeld seems to have an ally in this effort in the active Air Force and its leadership. Even before the ongoing BRAC process kicked off, the Air Force had announced that aging airframes and shortages in funding for maintenance accounts meant that it would be forced to dramatically reduce the size of its fighter fleet.

The bulk of the fighter retirements are aimed at the F-16 community, but the exceedingly high age of almost all of the service's KC-135 tanker aircraft meant that they too would be on the chopping block. Since most of the oldest of these airframes had long ago been assigned to ANG units, it meant that these units, located for the most part at municipal airports across the nation, would be the ones that would most likely lose their aircraft.

Across the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve Command, too many units have now been told that they will be losing their flying missions. For these unfortunate units, all that would remain would be the support elements that the active Air Force decided to retain as pools of specialized talent (without having to bear the higher costs of training and retaining aircrews and maintenance personnel).

In light of what happened to this nation on 9/11, the most conspicuous reductions and flying mission eliminations have taken place within the air defense/air sovereignty mission area conducted by First Air Force in its role as force provider for the CONUS NORAD region. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 atttacks, the Air Force ordered additional F-15 and F-16 units to provide aircraft and aircrews for the 24/7 mission of defending the heartland of America.

Just 3 years later, with the bean counters and other Rumsfeld sycophants calling the shots, it would seem that the air defense/air sovereignty mission is deemed no longer necessary.

Here are the DoD's proposed missions reductions and eliminations to the independent BRAC Commission for the units that had previously been dedicated to protecting the lower 48 states:

* 102nd Fighter Wing, MAANG at Otis ANGB, MA. Otis to close; 102nd Fighter Wing loses its flying mission; retires some aircraft, transfers others to 177th Fighter Wing, NJANG at Atlantic City, NJ.

* 119th Fighter Wing, NDANG, Hector Field, Fargo, ND. Loses its flying mission and retires its F-16A fighters; retains its ground support missions such as security forces, personnel, civil engineers and may be relocated to Grand Forks AFB, ND, after that base realigns and loses its active-duty aerial refueling mission.

* 120th Fighter Wing, MTANG, Great Falls, MT. Loses its flying mission and retires its F-16s; retains a supporting mission posture similar to that of the 119th Fighter Wing.

* 142nd Fighter Wing, ORANG, Portland IAP, Portland, OR. Loses its flying mission; retains ground support role and transfers some of its aircraft to the 177th Fighter Wing, NJANG at Atlantic City, NJ.

* 147th Fighter Wing, TXANG, Ellington Field, Houston, TX. Loses its flying mission and retires its F-16s; will receive Predator UAVs and retain ground support mission assignments.

* 148th Fighter Wing, MNANG, Duluth, MN. Loses its F-16s to the David-Monthan AFB "boneyard" with no new flying mission. Retains supporting missions including security forces, civil engineers, medical and personnel specialists.

The above fighter wings were units that had long and proud histories of providing the continental United States with its protective air-defense umbrella. In addition to protecting the homeland, each of the above units also supported numerous overseas deployments supporting Operations Northern and Southern Watch prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Each of the aforementioned units have supported repeated Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) rotations and will, in all likelihood do so again before they lose their flying missions.

As of this writing, the only ANG units answering to First Air Force that are expected to retain both an air defense/air superiority role and mission posture are the 125th Fighter Wing, FLANG, located at Jacksonville IAP, FL, the 144th Fighter Wing, CAANG at Fresno Airport, Fresno, CA and the 177th Fighter Wing, NJANG located at Atlantic City IAP, NJ. The 125th and 177th Fighter Wings will continue their missions with F-15 Eagles (the 177th after it receives their primary assigned aircraft from three ANG fighter wings stripped of theirs), and the 144th will soldier on with its F-16 Falcons.

The reduction in the number of dedicated air defense units means that the continental air defense of the lower 48 will be carried out by just three fighter units. The entire west coast will be patrolled and protected from Fresno while the east coast will have a unit in the southeast corner of the country and another located in the Mid-Atlantic region. Alaska, considered to be a separate command, will lose most of its active duty fighter aircraft to realignments or retirements and there will be considerable holes in the air defense network there until the newer F/A-22 Raptors are assigned there later in the decade.

These retirements and mission changes were not the decision of the Air National Guard, nor were flying mission losses in the Air Force Reserve conceived there. These force reductions were dictated by the Air Staff at Air Force headquarters and took many of the affected units completely by surprise. Needless to say, there will be significant economic and personal impacts for the wings, their communities and their assigned personnel. But the fighter community is not alone.

Here's another example: Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, Niagara Falls, NY, is the home to the 107th Air Refueling Wing, NYANG and the 914th Airlift Wing, USAF Reserve Command. The 107th is equipped with KC-135 tankers while the 914th flies "E" model C-130 Hercules tactical transports. The Air Force recommended the closure of the station and the elimination of both wings. Given that Niagara Falls is already suffering from a depressed economy, would anyone care to guess what effect this announcement will have on that region of New York state?

To be sure, the need to reduce the size of the Air Force's legacy fleet is a real one. But that doesn't tell the entire story. The fleet, procured at a time when weapons systems were far cheaper to buy and maintain, has existed for far too long without additions of newer airframes.

The average fighter aircraft is now over 20 years old. Tankers are, in most cases, nearing 40 years of service. Even the C-130s were, for the most part, purchased and delivered during the 1960s. Looking at the overall aircraft fleet and the need for airframe replacement while maintaining needed legacy fighters, transports and tankers, it is obvious that neglect in procurement by Congress has been allowed to go on for too many defense procurement cycles.

But the neglect in defense acquisitions cannot be solely laid at the doorstep of the Democratic Party, which has a sorry record of being closely associated with elected officials known for their vilification of the military and dedication to providing pork for favorite social programs at the expense of modernization and readiness. The Republican Party, now firmly in control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, has also been loathe to take those hard steps to replace obsolete and worn-out aircraft.

The situation has worsened over the years to a point where there is a case of too many replacements needed all at once and too little money to pay for them. All of the neglect over the 14 years since the end of the first Gulf War have come home to roost.

Sad to say, our inability to make the hard but necessary decisions to procure the aircraft to defend the nation reflect a bipartisan political failure. Worse, the paralysis reaches down into the uniformed leadership of the active Air Force.

The next time terrorists mount an attack on the United States from the air, it will not be difficult to determine who is to blame.