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July 30, 2009—Meeting with defense reporters Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt, Air National Guard director, reiterated one of his key themes: the Air Guard needs to recapitalize its aging fleet.

But the issue isn’t just about acquiring new capability, Wyatt said. Equally important is to ensure that the Air Guard receives the same systems as the active duty component and that these weapons are fielded “concurrently and proportionately” in the Air Guard, he said.

“We should have the same equipment,” he said. Otherwise the Air Guard runs the risk of becoming a second-tier “irrelevant force,” he said.

While much of Wyatt’s discussion focused on fighters and the Air Guard’s air sovereignty alert mission, he said his views apply to all capability across his component.

“It is not just fighters,” he explained. “It is tankers. It is airlifters. It is AWACS. … It is the early warning radars. It is the communications.” They all need to be recapitalized in the same manner.

As for fighters, Wyatt said he has no preference for the type of new platform that the Air Guard receives as long as it possess the capabilities so that the Air Guard can effectively perform the ASA mission and these aircraft are also able to participate in overseas rotations of combat forces.

“I am basically platform agnostic,” he said. “I don’t care. I am interested in the capability.”

He cited an advanced electronically scanned radar, infrared search and track, sensor fusion, and beyond-line-of-sight communications as some of the attributes desired in any new fighter platform.

“All of those capabilities need to be in the next platform, whatever it is,” he said.

Right now, the Air Guard faces a looming capability gap since about 80 percent of its F-16s that serve in ASA roles will be retired in the next eight years and new F-35s, their projected replacements, will not be in place until the early to mid 2020s, or “several years too late,” Wyatt said.

While the Air Force and Air Guard continue to work this issue, “We have not reached resolution yet,” he said.

He said his “a great fan” of the idea of accelerating the beddown of the F-35 in the Air Guard. But if that doesn’t pan out, he said he would support whatever decision Congress, along with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Air Force leadership, makes as far as a platform, as long as the Air Guard receives the same new capability “at the same time” as the active duty.

Along those lines, Wyatt said he is open to new fourth-generation fighters if that is what the active duty is also acquiring.

“I am keeping all options open,” he said.

He said he is even open to a service life extension upgrade of legacy fighters under the right conditions to mitigate the gap.

One potential scenario is to perform a SLEP on about 100 to 150 F-16s “to give us just a little bit of life” until F-35s enter the Air Guard, he said.

Wyatt said he is content with a force of 187 F-22s and isn’t necessarily advocating for more, although the F-22 is an aircraft well-suited for protecting the American homeland from threats such as sea-launched cruise missiles.

He did say he’d like to see the Air Guard have more of a role in the F-22 force, even if it stays at the current 187-aircraft program of record.

Since the Air Guard provides 34 percent of all Air Force capabilities—at only seven percent of the Air Force’s total budget—Wyatt said he’d like to see between 60 and 70 F-22s in the currently planned Raptor force in the Air Guard.

With creative basing plans, these F-22s could contribute to the ASA mission, while still being available for overseas rotations, he said.