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April 25, 2012
—Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told members of Congress that the Pentagon is willing to retain 24 C-130 transports in its Fiscal 2013 budget request to ensure that the Air National Guard can meet its mandate to support the states.

The $400 million package outlined in his April 23 letter to lawmakers, however, does not specify which units this change may affect or where the funding to retain these C-130s would come from.

"We recognize the important role that these [air]lift aircraft play in our support to civil authorities and to states—particularly in the event of natural disasters," wrote Panetta in the missive, obtained by the Daily Report. "I strongly urge you to consider this proposal, which we believe sustains our national defense requirements and is responsive to concerns raised by the Council of Governors."

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D), CoG co-chair, told the Daily Report that the council is reviewing Panetta's proposal.

The Air Force's Fiscal 2013 budget request looked to retire 286 aircraft—more than 50 percent of them from the Air Guard. The request also outlined plans to cut 9,900 personnel across the Total Force, including 3,900 Active Duty members, 5,100 Guardsmen, and 900 Air Force Reservists.

The USAF leadership has said these force structure changes are necessary if the service is to remain an effective fighting force in the face of steep budget reductions. The Air Force must cut its funding by $54 billion over the Fiscal 2013 to Fiscal 2017 future years defense program as part of the Defense Department's overall effort to shed $487 billion through Fiscal 2021 as the Budget Control Act mandates.

The Council of Governors, a bipartisan group of 10 governors appointed by the White House, offered an alternative proposal to the Air Force in early March that would have saved thousands of Guard jobs while cutting more Active Duty personnel. The governors also wanted to put F-16s and KC-135s back in Guard units, said a Defense Department official.

The Air Force rejected that plan last week, saying it would negatively impact readiness and cost significantly more than the governors projected, among the reasons.

The council said its plan would save about $700 million over the FYDP, but the Air Force doubts those projected savings and says that estimate is in error by at least $1.2 billion.

"It would increase the [Air Force's] budgetary shortfall over the FYDP by $528 million to $805 million while either not meeting [combatant commanders'] requirements or imposing unacceptable stress on both the active and reserve components," states the Air Force's evaluation of the initial proposal.

Panetta's letter to Congress does not address end strength, but a Defense Department official told the Daily Report that the compromise also would save 2,200 Air Guard positions.

"We still have to figure out how to fund that. Those decisions haven't been made yet, but it doesn't necessarily mean there will be a tradeoff of personnel. It's possible we can find funding through other types of accounts," said the official.

In his letter to Congress and a subsequent correspondence to the CoG dated the same day, Panetta expressed a desire to continue working with the governors to "exchange views, information, and advice on state civil-support requirements." Such a process is expected to be in place before the President's Fiscal 2014 budget proposal is submitted to Congress early next year, he wrote.

Gregoire said the Air Guard provides an "invaluable" service to the Air Force and has twice the experience, on average, as the Active Duty force—14 years versus seven years.

"For the past month, the Council of Governors has been engaged in a good-faith effort with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to reduce the proposed cuts to the Air National Guard. I'm pleased that Secretary Panetta has engaged in that effort and modified the Air Force budget submissions to Congress in recognition of the Guard's vital role overseas and here at home," she said.