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March 29, 2010—The Air National Guard currently has 10 units flying Block 30 F-16s that Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt, ANG director, told lawmakers last week will age out by 2017. Those 10 units fly a total of roughly 180 fighters, said Wyatt. The Air Force now projects that the Total Force will have a fighter gap of some 135 aircraft around 2017; however, Wyatt noted, "The risk is greater for the Air National Guard, because the Air National Guard has a preponderance of the older airplanes."

He said the Air Guard continues to work with USAF to address the gap, considering a service life extension program (SLEP) for the older fighters but not purchase of so-called 4.5 generation aircraft. A SLEP would extend the legacy F-16s for another four to five years, said Wyatt, but he added that so far there's no money on the table.

Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), co-chair of the Guard Caucus, observed at the March 24 Senate Appropriations defense panel hearing, "It costs almost as much as half of purchasing a new airplane to get a SLEP, and you have much less capability than half the life of a new airplane."

Wyatt said, too, that he is talking with USAF about "leveling the squadron size across the combat air forces—active, Guard, and Reserve—from 24 to 18 [primary aircraft authorized]," which would enable the flow of some legacy airplanes to the Air Guard—primarily Block 40 and 50 F-16s, some A-10s, and perhaps some F-15Es.

Wyatt continued, "That could result in the flow of about 180 jets … to address the problem with the age-out of the Block 30s."

The Air Force has also indicated that it intends to proportionally and concurrently flow new F-35s to the Air Guard and Air Force Reserve. (USAF listed several Air Guard candidate locations for its initial F-35 beddown.) Wyatt said USAF also is considering fielded the F-35 initially at "18 PAA, as opposed to 24, so that you can spread the fielding out among all three components."

However, Bond doesn't believe USAF will provide the Air Guard with new F-35s "at the same time the actives get it," although he acknowledged he may be "getting old and cynical."

Wyatt reminded the lawmakers that a Congressionally directed report from USAF on the "concurrent and proportional beddown of 5th generation aircraft" in the Air Guard is due "pretty soon." Saying he wasn't "at liberty to speculate" since the report hasn't been filed with Congress, he urged lawmakers to "take a look."

According to Bond, though, if USAF pursues its present course—which he said it's doing "under pressure from the Pentagon"—it will lead to "a significant draw down of Air Guard aircraft," and ultimately to "the eventual decline of our air dominance."

 

Also see Air Guard Aircraft Crisis Nears