Guard Aircraft Fleets Continue To Shrink

By Grace V. Jean
Over the past decade, the Air National Guard has shrunk in size and continues to fly with some of the oldest aircraft in the Defense Department’s inventory.

“I’m very concerned about the future of our Air Guard and the Air Force,” said Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “I worry about the Air Force because I think in some cases the plans that our Air Force has had have been put on hold to fund the land component. And that’s translated into the Air Guard significantly being older and more vulnerable.”

Since 9/11, the Air National Guard has experienced a net loss of 245 airplanes across all of its fleets because of aircraft retirements, reductions, upgrades and new missions.

The fighter fleet has been hit particularly hard. Cutbacks intended to support the F-35 program have resulted in the loss of 153 F-16 combat-coded fighter jets and 38 training aircraft. Older model F-16s — the F-16A and the F-16B — were retired, and several Air Guard units were recapitalized with F-16Cs and F-16Ds divested from active-duty squadrons. The reduced fleet of F-16s meant that the Guard required fewer training aircraft, which allowed one squadron’s worth of F-16 training airplanes to retire.

The Air Guard also retired its B-1 bomber fleet and a number of the oldest aircraft in the airlift and tanker fleets — 65 C-130E planes, 23 C-130H1 aircraft and a net of 40 KC-135E tankers.

Though the force has picked up new aircraft along the way — including the Predator and Reaper unmanned systems, C-17s and C-27Js — it stands to lose many more of its older fleet inventory because nothing is on the books to replace the legacy equipment.

“I’m very concerned that just because of the age of our fleet, that some people might discard our Air Guard as out-of-date and incapable of being recapitalized. I’m not willing to accept that — yet,” said McKinley. “But I know intuitively that that’s going to be a tremendous challenge.

“We can do more with more capable platforms, but quite frankly, our whole organizational structure has been built around a wing in the Air Guard,” said McKinley. With fewer aircraft types and numbers, it is likely that the Air Guard will have to restructure itself, he said.

Topics: Aviation

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