Though the prospect of Defense cuts under sequestration has absorbed air time in recent months, lawmakers went before the House Armed Services Committee last week to remind its members that some cuts in the current budget proposal are just as troubling.
With the White House’s Defense budget proposal for FY 2013 outlining nearly $500 billion in cuts to be implemented over the next decade, some of the most punishing reductions in jobs and capabilities are slated to be taken at Air National Guard units across the country. According to wire calculations made last month, reductions proposed by the Air Force would cut 3,900 active duty, 5,100 Air National Guard, and 900 Air Force Reserve jobs in over 20 states across the country.
The staggered announcements about bases targeted for closure and units slated for deactivation have generated localized outcry, but to no avail so far.
A Feb. 26 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta protesting the cuts was signed by 49 governors of U.S. states and territories.
“Over the past decade our National Guard has evolved into a cost-effective operational force that is critical to our national security and our ability to respond to domestic emergencies. The Air Guard provides 35 percent of the U.S. Air Force’s capability for six percent of the budget,” they wrote. “…We must oppose the proposal that the Air National Guard absorb 59 percent of the total aircraft budget reductions and approximately six times the per capita personnel reductions.”
At a Tuesday meeting of the House Armed Services Committee designed to give non-HASC members of the House a chance to discuss their priorities for the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, a number of Congressmen again picked up the call.
Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) defended the Air National Guard’s 132nd Fighter Wing in Des Moines, the only F-16 unit tapped for elimination under the budget proposal.
“Obviously I am concerned about the economic impact in Iowa and the future of those airmen, but I am most concerned that it appears the decision was made using non-strategic criteria, and that the greater cost effectiveness of relying on Air Guard units was completely ignored,” Latham said.
He noted that upkeep of guard units in non-surge times cost roughly one-third of what it did to maintain active-duty units and maintained that the Air Guard would need to maintain its F-16 strength, an aircraft it would likely continue to fly for decades as active troops transitioned to the F-35.
Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) protested the end of the 24-hour alert mission at Minnesota Air National Guard’s 148th Fighter Wing, one of two Aerospace Control Alert sites slated for reduction, saying the move left a large portion of the nation’s northern border to the west virtually unprotected.
“Military commanders were forced to make painful decisions that jeopardized military readiness responding to what I consider draconian budget cuts,” he said. “These cuts have and will directly affect our national security and the security of our citizens.”
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) came to the defense of the state’s 911th Airlift Wing and 171st ANG units, saying the proposed cuts were like an “NFL coach being told to cut his roster by removing the first string.”
While that statement drew appreciative assent from HASC Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), many testimonies on the issue elicited a hand-wringing refrain.
“We were given a budget by the president and that was built off a speech that he gave a little over a year ago,” McKeon said. “Instead of picking what our needs are, what our risks are, and devising a budget to fit that, we’ve backed into (looking at) our risks based on a smaller budget.”
None of what was discussed Tuesday factored in the prospect of additional cuts under sequestration, which would further cut the Air Force down to its smallest manpower size in its 65-year history, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.