Guard Should Remain an Operational Reserve
By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
National Guard Bureau
WASHINGTON, Mar. 25, 2010 National Guard leaders went to Capitol Hill yesterday with a message to Congress from Guardsmen: “We want to remain an operational reserve.”
Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, right, testifies before a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Defense, while Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, director of the Air National Guard, listens. The hearing was held on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 24, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“The National Guard has repeatedly proven itself to be a ready, accessible force,” Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee. “We have validated the total force concept by showing that the men and women in our formations are ready to answer the call to be mobilized to deploy overseas, return home and then become prepared to do it again and again.”
The total force concept includes a seamless integration of the active force, the National Guard and the services’ reserves.
“The citizen-soldiers and -airmen of your National Guard are adding value to America every day,” McKinley said. “Today’s men and women volunteer … fully expecting to be deployed.”
That expectation is a central aspect of the National Guard’s shift to being a fully operational force and no longer merely a strategic reserve, McKinley said. “Indeed,” he added, “the soldiers and airmen of your National Guard now serve with that expectation and are proud of it. They want to remain central players in the nation’s defense and would indeed be resistant to any move to return to a role limited to strictly strategic reserve.”
Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III said the Air National Guard’s priorities for 2011 are modernization, securing the home front, and defending the nation and developing airmen.
“Our nation’s Air National Guard provides a trained, equipped and ready force, accessible and available, that comprises about one-third of the total [Air Force] capabilities for less than 7 percent of the total force spending,” he said. “Many of our folks continue to volunteer at unprecedented rates for worldwide contingencies and to protect our domestic security through air sovereignty alert missions and in responding to natural and manmade disasters.”
Describing the operational National Guard as “a national treasure,” Army Maj. Gen. Raymond W. Carpenter, acting director of the Army National Guard, said “the National Guard today is a far cry from the force I joined.”
Facilities and infrastructure are among the Army Guard priorities Carpenter cited to the committee. “[They] are especially important in the homeland mission and supporting readiness for the overseas fight,” he said.
“We have 1,400 readiness centers – armories – that are over 50 years old. The president’s budget includes $873 million for construction for the Army National Guard,” Carpenter told the panel. “It is a high-water mark … and something we’d like to see sustained in order for us to do the modernization of armories.”
The aging air fleet accounted for most of the Guard leadership’s testimony. Guard leaders said a looming aircraft shortfall could diminish the Air National Guard’s homeland defense air sovereignty mission.
Eighty percent of the National Guard’s F-16 Fighting Falcon multi-role jet fighters – the backbone of the air sovereignty alert force – will begin reaching the end of their service lives in seven years, according to the 2011 National Guard Posture Statement released yesterday. Of 18 air sovereignty alert sites nationwide, the Air National Guard operates 16 flying aging F-16s that often were built before their National Guard pilots were born.
The Air Force is scheduled to field a new F-35 Lightning II stealth multi-role fighter, but a gap exists between the anticipated end of the Fighting Falcons’ service life and when the Air Guard could expect to start receiving any allotment of F-35s.
“It is a primary concern of mine to make sure that we address a plan to make sure that we have the capability in the near term as we wait for the fielding of the F-35,” Wyatt told the subcommittee.
The Air National Guard has 88 flying units. “We have three units that – without any kind of intervention – probably will not have equipment by the end of [fiscal 2012], which is a big concern,” McKinley said.
But no legacy aircraft are in the pipeline to fill this gap.
One solution to alleviate the pressure: The Air Force has said the Air National Guard can re-evaluate the amount of flying time left on its aging F-15 Eagle tactical fighter and F-16 fleet, McKinley said. That would mean some aircraft potentially could see longer service lives than previously expected.
The National Guard is known for squeezing the most from aging equipment, as it did from the 59-year-old M35 “deuce-and-a-half” cargo trucks, that Carpenter told the subcommittee, are finally being phased out this year, and from the 40-year-old UH-1 Huey helicopters the Guard flew until 2009.
The Air Force also foresees ramping up F-35 production from 48 to 80 per year. “That’s a significant change,” McKinley said.
Failing longer service lives or faster F-35 fielding, units could receive alternative missions. “The last thing that I want to see is a wing of aircraft leave, and leave 1,200 people at a location with nothing to do,” McKinley said. “That’s just not in the interests of the American citizen.”