Air Force: Eight C-17s would replace C-5A fleet at W.Va. 167th Airlift Wing

February 03, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • A C-17 III Globemaster military transport plane

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The 11 C-5A aircraft assigned to the Air National Guard unit based near Martinsburg will be replaced with eight, C-17 Globemasters, a smaller aircraft that isn’t nearly as wide or cavernous, military officials said Friday.

The transition slated for the 167th Airlift Wing at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport in fiscal 2015 is part of an Air Force plan to retire 191 Air National Guard aircraft following $487 billion in budget cuts announced by the Pentagon last month, officials said.

Col. Roger Nye, the 167th Wing’s commander, said Friday he did not know what impact, if any, the changes in “iron” at the base would have on staffing levels. The unit currently has about 400 full-time and 1,360 part-time airmen, according to figures released Thursday.

Whatever staffing changes may occur, Nye said the unit will have plenty of time to make the transition.

A “white paper” released Wednesday by Air Force leaders indicates that 27 C-5As were among 133 mobility aircraft targeted for elimination.

Changes to the makeup of the Air Force also are expected to result in the reduction of 9,900 active, Guard and reserve airmen, the Air Force said in the five-page document.

West Virginia National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. David P. Lester said Thursday that he didn’t foresee the changes having any impact on a separate arrangement by the Guard to lease a portion of the historic Baltimore & Ohio roundhouse and shops complex in Martinsburg.

Nye said the changes also would not have any impact on the air show and open house that will be hosted by the airlift wing again this year.

Compared to the change in force structure and reductions planned for other Air Guard units announced this week, Nye said West Virginia’s two airlift wings fared well.

Charleston’s 130th Airlift Wing will lose one of its nine C-130 Hercules aircraft as well as a RC-26 aircraft, the West Virginia National Guard announced Friday.

“It shows the dedication and hard work that our men and women do every day,” said Nye, who expects that to continue with the C-17.

“We’re very proud of them.”

The military said Friday that the C-17 Globemaster is the newest, most flexible cargo aircraft to enter the airlift force. It is capable of rapid delivery of troops and all types of cargo to main operating bases or directly to forward bases.

More than 280 aircraft are being considered for elimination as part of Department of Defense budget cuts planned over 10 years, according to the Air Force.

Given the magnitude of the 167th Airlift Wing’s operations, budget cuts there could cause a ripple effect in the community.

The 167th Airlift Wing’s economic impact on the Martinsburg community in 2011 included outlays of $33.4 million in military pay and allowances; $32.8 million in civilian payroll; $54.1 million in goods and services; and $1.1 million in construction, according to figures the West Virginia National Guard released Friday. 

Stephen Christian, executive director of the Berkeley County Development Authority, said he believes the Air Guard will continue to expand based on feedback he has received from military officials.

The millions of dollars that the military spent on capital improvement projects at the airport to bring about the Airlift Wing’s conversion from C-130 aircraft to C-5As effectively added “tremendous” value to the marketability of the airport for commercial business, Christian said.

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