Air National Guard Chief Worries as Aircraft Fleets Age

By Sarah Sicard

As Air National Guard fleets continue to age and budget constraints slow procurement, it is growing more difficult to maintain older aircraft, the service's top leader said Dec. 19. 

"I tell people about my 1961 Corvette. I love my '61 Corvette. It's red … turns on a dime. I don't trust it beyond 10 miles," he said. "To that point, we're asking airmen to fly 1961 model airplanes across thousands of miles of open ocean, at night, into combat areas without hesitation," said Lt. Gen. Stanley "Sid" Clarke, director of the Air National Guard, said in a speech before the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute in Arlington, Virginia.

The Air National Guard intends to meet minimum modernization criteria to ensure that all aircraft are "safe, reliable and compatible" with the needs of the total force, he added. 

"It's going to be tough, no doubt," he added. But "the Air National Guard is a proven choice."

The passage of the National Defense Authorization Act left some questioning the future of older aircraft such as the C-130, of which the Air National Guard has the largest share.

"Obviously working under sequestration is going to be a difficult environment; prioritization becomes important," he said.

"We are finding ourselves in a unique situation of where we have a lot of legacy airplanes," he said. Of the current aircraft, he added, "They're going to have to be modernized until we can get to the point where we can recapitalize with new airplanes."

 Clarke, though confident in the Air National Guard's ability to rise to all challenges in the coming years, said that the Air Force would ultimately need to turn its focus onto fielding new aircraft.

Until that is possible, however, the Air National Guard will work to ensure that all legacy systems meet necessary compliance requirements. That means that the focus must be on modifying, maintaining and upgrading its aging aircraft, he said. The Air National Guard would never require airmen to fly aircraft that don't meet basic safety standards, he stressed.

"This issue affects the whole United States Air Force," he said. "We've got multiple platforms that [will] need modifications to be compliant with … regulations."

The overall goal is to continue to be a seamless member of the total force, he said. Currently, the Air National Guard has three focus areas: war-fighting operations, homeland operations, and security cooperation with foreign countries.

"It's only appropriate that we are re-modernizing and recapitalizing on par with the United States Air Force," he added. Air National Guard aircraft should have the same capabilities as the regular Air Force's aircraft, he said. Its personnel are often called upon to carry out the same missions. 

"The Air Force does not hesitate [in] mobilizing our people for any task or assigning any task… and they do that on a regular basis," Clarke said.

Topics: Aviation, Transport Aircraft, Procurement

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