DefenseAlert Intra-Theater Airlift Working Group To Decide Basing For 32 Cargo Planes Posted on InsideDefense.com: January 3, 2013 The Air Force has established an Intra-Theater Airlift working group to decide how to divvy up the 32 cargo aircraft lawmakers have mandated the service keep through fiscal year 2013.
Less than 24 hours after President Obama signed the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, a key member of that group, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Moeller, is meeting today with House Armed Services Committee staffers to discuss how the working group plans to come up with a basing strategy for those aircraft, according to an Air Force official and a congressional source. Moeller is the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs.
Obama signed the NDAA while on vacation in Hawaii. The signing was announced Thursday by the White House press office just after midnight Eastern Standard Time.
Rumors that the group had already been established have trickled out of Capitol Hill and the Pentagon over the past week. Air Force officials initially declined to discuss the development, citing the fact that the NDAA had yet to be signed. But on Thursday, following the White House announcement, spokeswoman Ann Stefanek confirmed to Inside the Air Force that senior service officials were preparing to address the congressional mandate.
“The Air Force will convene an Intra-Theater Airlift Working Group to determine how best to comply with the FY-13 NDAA language directing the restoral of additional intra-theater aircraft to the Air Force inventory,” she said in a Jan. 3 email. “The IAWG will be a Total Force endeavor comprised of members from the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, Air Mobility Command and Headquarters Air Force. The working group will provide recommendations to [Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, SECAF] by the end of January. Announcement of the SECAF’s decision on intra-theater airlift restorals will occur sometime after that date.”
In its FY-13 NDAA, Congress instructed the service to maintain a mix of 32 C-27J and C-130 cargo aircraft to meet the Army’s fixed-wing, direct support, time-sensitive airlift mission requirements. In response to the new requirement, the Air Force convened a group of senior officers who must abide by the Air Force Strategic Basing Structure, which obligates them to take a cross-functional consideration of Air Force strategic basing decisions before committing to a particular outcome, a Pentagon source told ITAF on Wednesday.
Air Force officials have felt strong push-back from legislators against their attempt to shave down the size of the force structure. Dismay and distrust among members of Congress was evident soon after the service, in its original FY-13 budget request, recommended trimming the force structure by 287 aircraft. In response to the negative congressional response, the Air Force released a last-minute revised plan that decreased its aircraft inventory by only 244 planes. Still, Congress asked for more.
Now, per the NDAA, the service must find the right balance for adding those 32 cargo aircraft to the slimmed down force structure. That is where the working group comes in, according to the Pentagon source.
The group will take a “subjective look” at what basing strategy is in the best interest of the service and follow the standard procedure for all basing requests on Air Force property, the source said. That process, though fair, will likely prove difficult because certain lawmakers are still intent on holding onto the aircraft stationed at the bases in their backyard, the source added.
“Everybody you’re going to cut from is going to tell you, ‘No,’ and give you a good reason for why,” the source said.
Some of the states that stand to lose their cargo aircraft in FY-13 or FY-14 as part of the new force structure strategy are Alaska, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to the service’s revised proposal. ITAF obtained a copy of the proposal in early December. Lawmakers for those states are already lining up to speak to those tasked with making basing recommendations.
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) announced in a Dec. 28 statement that he, too, has organized a meeting between Pennsylvania lawmakers and Moeller which will be geared toward discussing the advantages of keeping a squadron of seven C-130s at Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station (IAP ARS), PA, home of the 911th Airlift Wing.
In late 2012, Air Force Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. James Jackson told some of those Pennsylvania lawmakers that the Air Force did not perform a comparison of operating costs at bases before making its recommendations for cuts, according to a Nov. 27 statement released by Murphy’s office. As a result, legislators are keeping a watchful eye on the decisions of the Air Force. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) has already promised his fellow congressmen that he will conduct a full review of the working group’s recommendations, according to a congressional source.
“Certainly we will exercise oversight, especially since we faulted USAF methodology with their first and second Guard proposals,” the source said. — Maggie Ybarra