Flashing yellow light. There is a reason to somewhat worried here. Why, you ask? Simple, the defense budget proposals released yesterday include significant transport plane cuts and flying transport planes is what the Charlotte-based N.C. Air National Guard does. Specifically, the Pentagon is planing on:
• Retiring 27 aging C-5As, resulting in a fleet of modernized 52 C-5Ms and 222 C-17s
• Retiring 65 of the oldest C-130s, resulting in a fleet of 318 C-130s
• Divesting 38 C-27s
And some quotes:
…[W]e are making only marginal reductions in the Army reserve and Army National Guard and no reductions to the Marine Corps Reserve… the Air Force is balancing the size of its reserve and active components, including aircraft and manpower reductions, and adjusting the alignment of missions and installations to sustain the operational Reserve Component for the long term. The Air Force will augment the readiness of their reserves by increasing Active-Reserve Component associations.
Translation: some Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve flying units will be shutting down.
Now let’s look closer. Charlotte is, of course, a C-130 Hercules base. The Air Force proper currently operates about a third of all C-130s in use, with the rest flown by the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. The typical ANG and AFR C-130 unit has between six and 10 aircraft, with most being at six to eight rather than 10. (The N.C. ANG is on the high side.) So it’s quite easy to image six or eight ANG/AFR C-130 bases being eliminated if unit sizes don’t grow. And in the last base closing round, the Air Force wanted to increase unit size to, in most cases, 12 aircraft, which would have resulted in far fewer ANG and AFR C-130 units. (The base closing commission (BRAC) did not go along.)
There’s some good news though: CLT rated very well in the methodology used to rank AF/ANG/AFR facilities during the last (2005) BRAC round. In fact, for the airlift mission, Charlotte/Douglas International Airport ranked 33rd of all Air Force bases, active duty or reserve component. The only base with a National Guard C-130 unit to rank higher was Little Rock, but that’s also an active-duty Air Force base.
Two important qualifiers: There’s no guarantee that a future BRAC round would use the same measurement to determine a base’s military value, so we might not look quite as good in the future.
And there’s a truth that doesn’t go away: CLT is the second-best C-130 base in North Carolina, behind what is now Pope Army Airfield, which is right next to Ft. Bragg. It’s very, very hard to imagine there not being C-130s at Pope. If the Pentagon cuts enough transport planes, and Charlotte looks a bit more average, the N.C. Air National Guard might simply shift over to Fayetteville.
Now how likely is this? Unlikely, certainly. Impossible? No. Unprecedented? No. The Virginia ANG, which used to have its own F-16s and be based in Richmond, shifted over to Langley AFB a few years back and now provides extra pilots for the active-duty assigned F-22s based there.