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Air Force eyes elimination of aircraft assigned to 167th Airlift Wing

'White paper' released Wednesday indicates 27 C-5As are among 133 mobility aircraft being targeted

February 02, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com
  • In this file photo, Chief Master Sgt. Roland Shambaugh gives a tour of a C-5A during the West Virginia Air National Guard 167th Airlift Wing media day at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport in Martinsburg, W.Va.
Herald-Mail file photo

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — More than 280 aircraft — including the type assigned to West Virginia Air National Guard units based near Martinsburg and Charleston — are being considered for elimination over the next five years, according to the Air Force.

A “white paper” released Wednesday by Air Force leaders indicates that 27 C-5As, the aircraft assigned to the 167th Airlift Wing at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, are among 133 mobility aircraft being targeted.

Planned changes to the makeup of the Air Force will result in the reduction of 9,900 active, guard and reserve airmen, the Air Force said in the five-page document.

“We’re kind of anxious to see what happens,” West Virginia National Guard Lt. Col. David P. Lester said in a telephone interview Thursday. “Right now, we don’t know the extent of it.”

The impact could be huge at the 167th base, however.

There are 10 C-5As assigned to the 167th Airlift Wing, which is staffed by about 400 full-time and 1,360 part-time airmen, according to figures Lester released Thursday.

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More specific information about changes to the force structure, which are related to the Pentagon’s 2013 budget plan for the Department of Defense, is expected to be released today, Lester said.

“Every state is going to be impacted one way or the other,” Lester said. 

The Air Force said in its strategy document that defense cuts totaling $487 billion over 10 years “will be hard but manageable” and indicated that their force structure decisions “favored retention of multi-role platforms over those with more narrowly focused capabilities.”

While the Air Force said mitigation is planned for affected Air National Guard units, the strategy document made no promise that the cuts would be offset by possible changes in mission. 

“Although some squadrons will actually grow larger, it is unlikely that there will be a 100 percent backfill of personnel or alternative mission for every location,” the Air Force said.

The alternative missions noted in the strategy document included Remotely Piloted Aircraft or Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.

In a statement released Thursday via Lester, Maj. General James A. Hoyer, adjutant general of West Virginia, lamented the potential for any National Guard cuts.

“We can perform the exact same missions at a fraction of the cost of the active forces while maintaining our ability to respond to state emergencies,” Hoyer said. “It is this value that we continuously stress as the economic advantage of the National Guard. It is my belief that the Department of Defense should be looking to place more resources in the Guard instead of cutting them.”

In addition to the C-5As, the white paper indicates 65 C-130s, the type of mobility aircraft currently assigned to the 130th Airlift Wing at Yeager Airport near Charleston, also are being eyed for elimination.

There are currently eight of the aircraft assigned to the 130th, according to Lester.  There are about 1,140 airmen based there, he said.

The C-130 was previously assigned to the 167th. The unit’s transition to the C-5A was announced in March 2002 by late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, but it did not embark on its first mission with the aircraft until March 2007, according to the 167th’s website.

About $280 million has been spent on the C-5 conversion program projects since 2003, including site preparation, an air-control tower, a flight-simulator facility, ramp and hydrant upgrades, a corrosion-control hangar, a fuel-cell hangar, runway upgrades and extensions, a fire station, a supply warehouse, apron and jet fuel storage and taxiway upgrades.

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