National Guard April 2012 : Page 36
Long Fight Ahead By William Matthews Proposed Air Guard cuts took center stage last month, but the 2013 budget request off ers a little something for almost everyone to dislike CROSS THE UNITED States and across party lines, there’s at least one thing the nation’s governors agree on: The Air Force’s plan to cut 5,100 National Guard airmen and retire 139 Air Guard planes in 2013 has got to be stopped. Governors and their adjutants general have launched separate cam-paigns to block the 2013 Air Force budget that spells out cuts they say would devastate the Air Guard. The proposed 2013 defense budget, which would cut Air Guard personnel by almost 5 percent and Guard aircraft by more than 13 A 36 | Na tional Guard
Long Fight Ahead
Proposed Air Guard cuts took center stage last month, but the 2013 budget request offers a little something for almost everyone to dislike<br /> <br /> A CROSS THE UNITED States and across party lines, there’s at least one thing the nation’s governors agree on: The Air Force’s plan to cut 5,100 National Guard airmen and retire 139 Air Guard planes in 2013 has got to be stopped.<br /> <br /> Governors and their adjutants general have launched separate campaigns to block the 2013 Air Force budget that spells out cuts they say would devastate the Air Guard.<br /> <br /> The proposed 2013 defense budget, which would cut Air Guard personnel by almost 5 percent and Guard aircraft by more than 13 Percent, is much kinder to the Army Guard. It proposes no personnel cuts and includes $1.7 billion worth of new helicopters, fighting vehicles and other equipment, but even that dollar figure is more than $1 billion less than in 2012.<br /> <br /> For the Air Guard, the budget would divest all 15 of its C-27J Spartan transport planes and cut 61 aircraft from about 100 A-10 fighters, 16 KC-135 refueling tankers, 15 F-16 fighters, 10 C-130 and 6 C-21 transports, 5 C-5A cargo planes and an E-8C Joint STARS radar plane.<br /> <br /> The budget request also includes plans to eliminate additional Air Guard aircraft over the subsequent four years, bringing total losses through 2017 to nearly 200 platforms.<br /> <br /> And every state but North Dakota faces Air Guard personnel cuts.<br /> <br /> “There’s going to be a real fight about this—and the Guard could end up winning,” Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis, said in February. “Don’t underestimate the power of the Guard on Capitol Hill.” <br /> <br /> The governors concede that cuts in defense spending are necessary because of “economic realities,” but they say deep cuts to the Air Guard don’t make economic sense.<br /> <br /> “The Air Guard provides 35 percent of the Air Force’s capability for 6 percent of the budget,” 49 governors wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Feb. 26.<br /> <br /> The Air Guard should not “absorb 59 percent of the total aircraft budget reductions” and personnel cuts that are six times deeper than cuts to the active-component Air Force, the governors said.<br /> <br /> The 54 adjutants general registered Similar concerns with the key defense committees in their Feb. 27 letter.<br /> <br /> The Guard, they noted, has the lowest base operating expenses and lower life-cycle costs than the active component force. But when it came to drafting the 2013 spending plan, “we have been excluded from the Air Force budget process.” <br /> <br /> The defense budget battle will take months to resolve in Congress. In meetings with Congressional offices, NGAUS legislative team members say Congress is skeptical of the Air Force’s budget analysis and its cutting plan.<br /> <br /> When the House Armed Services Committee began the process Feb. 28, half a dozen lawmakers assailed Air Force proposals to retire brand new C-27Js and A-10s and questioned plans to shuffle F-15s, F-16s and C-130s, but not their aircrews or maintainers, from state to state.<br /> <br /> Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, expressed dismay over planned aircraft relocations.<br /> <br /> "You’re moving C-130s from Dallas- Fort Worth to Montana. You’re moving F-15s from Montana to California, and then you’re moving something called the MC-12 – I guess a twin-engine ISR platform – to Fort Worth,” Conaway said to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff.<br /> <br /> But the Air Guard troops who fly and maintain the planes and train new pilots won’t be moving with their Aircraft, Conaway said. So, there will be training costs, and there will likely be building costs for facilities to house the aircraft in new locations.<br /> <br /> “Walk us through the business plan for why this makes sense,” he said.<br /> <br /> Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., whose state stands to lose four C-27Js, quoted Air Force statements from 2008 and 2010 that the new cargo planes were essential. Now the Air Force wants to abandon them. “What changed?” Bartlett asked Schwartz.<br /> <br /> “Life-cycle costs,” Schwartz replied.Over 25 years, the C-27J costs $308 million per aircraft, while the C-130J costs $213 million and the C-130H costs $185 million.<br /> <br /> But Bartlett came armed with statistics of his own. The C-27J costs $3,000 less per hour to operate than a C-130, and $5,000 less than a CH-47 helicopter, he said.<br /> <br /> And Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., whose state would lose C-27Js under The 2013 budget proposal, told Donley and Schwartz, “My staff and I have been looking at this for quite some time now and still fail to see any military benefit or cost benefit to some of these moves.” <br /> <br /> The grilling continued as Air Force leaders appeared before hearings of the other key congressional defense committees.<br /> <br /> Several wanted to see the data justifying Air Force decisions, but Donley and Schwartz provided little.<br /> <br /> One member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense said it was part of a pattern from the flying service.<br /> <br /> “I’m gonna tell you,” Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, said to Donley and Schwartz at the March 6 hearing, “I haven’t had a good experience with the Air Force and due diligence.” <br /> <br /> The plan fared no better in the upper chamber.<br /> <br /> “A very troubling aspect of the budget proposal is that, within these force structure changes, the cuts in manpower and personnel are falling disproportionately on the Air National Guard,” said Sen. Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, at a March 20 hearing.<br /> <br /> His state is among the hardest hit.The proposed budget would cut 25 Air Guard aircraft and 652 personnel in Michigan, or roughly one of every four Michigan Air Guardsmen.<br /> <br /> The day before the hearing, Levin and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the committee’s ranking Republican, took the unusual step of asking Panetta in a letter to hold off on any actions in the 2013 budget.<br /> <br /> They wrote, “We request that you not take actions to implement decisions that would be difficult or impossible to reverse by anticipating congressional approval of what may turn out to be very contentious proposals before the committees have had an opportunity to propose bills reflecting their responses to the fiscal 2013 budget request.” <br /> <br /> Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the co-chairman of the Senate National Guard Caucus, expressed even stronger sentiment in public statements. He said his 84-member caucus “will not sit by while any of the military services decimate their reserve components.” <br /> <br /> Meanwhile, the governors’ argument that they should have been informed of decisions that affect their ability to respond in an emergency won traction with the defense secretary.<br /> <br /> Panetta invited the Council of Governors, a 10-member body that represents the governors in dealings with the Pentagon, to develop an alternative plan.<br /> <br /> The council’s plan, which reverses many of the cuts, was submitted to the Air Force early last month. Negotiations ensued but without resolution by March 27.<br /> <br /> Donley has said personnel reductions fall heavily on the Air Guard in this budget because cuts in the past have already reduced active-component personnel end-strength.<br /> <br /> Panetta contends the defense cuts in general are necessary because the United States is “at a strategic turning point after a decade of war and after a very substantial growth in the defense budget.” He said he wants to reshape the military into a smaller, leaner, more agile, flexible and rapidly deployable force.<br /> <br /> To begin, he proposes a $614 billion defense budget for 2013. That’s $32 billion less than the current budget, mostly, although not entirely, because the war in Iraq has ended.<br /> <br /> Panetta wants a $525.4 billion “base” budget for 2013, which is $5.2 billion less than the Defense Department’s current $530.6 billion base budget, or a 1 percent decrease.<br /> <br /> He also wants an $88 billion “overseas contingency operations,” or OCO, budget chiefly fighting the war in Afghanistan. That’s down from $115 billion this fiscal year, which included three months of funding for the war in Iraq.<br /> <br /> Thus the total budget request is $614 billion, down from current $646 billion.<br /> <br /> The Guard’s portion of that comes in three major pieces: personnel, operations and maintenance, and military construction (milcon).<br /> <br /> The three in the 2013 base-budget proposal for the Air Guard total $9.2 billion (box, page 37), about a 1 percent cut from the $9.3 billion for 2012. The Air Guard receives a bit more from the proposed OCO budget, about $9 million for personnel and $20 million for O&M.<br /> <br /> The Army Guard enjoys a 3 percent increase for 2013 in the base budget and suffers no personnel cuts or major equipment retirements, thanks to OCO funding.<br /> <br /> The 2013 base budget would give the Army Guard $15.8 billion for 2013 (box, page 37), up from about $15.3 billion this year. But the Army Guard would receive an extra $967 million from the OCO budget, $584 million more for personnel and $383 million more for O&M. That boosts the Army Guard’s proposed budget total to almost $16.3 billion for 2013.<br /> <br /> In a seeming contradiction, Air Guard personnel spending does go up, if only slightly, despite personnel cuts that would shrink Air Guard ranks from 106,700 airmen to 101,600. <br /> <br /> Col. Michael Cheney, the Air Guard’s director of financial management and comptroller, explains: There’s a 1.7 percent raise and allowance increases for all military personnel, which push costs up, and the 5,100 jobs to be cut will be eliminated over the course of the year. So, many in the jobs that are to vanish will be paid for at least part of the year.<br /> <br /> Plus, Cheney says, cutting “drillstatus Guardsmen,” who are part-time employees, just doesn’t save that much money. In addition to 4,572 traditional Guard airmen to be cut, there are 528 Active Guard and Reserve personnel who work for the Guard full time, and 1,652 technicians, who also are full-time government employees, he says.<br /> <br /> Many job cuts would likely be made by not filling vacancies after troops willingly depart, Cheney says.<br /> <br /> “The last thing we want to do is force people out,” he says.<br /> <br /> But some forced cuts may be necessary as the Guard works to balance reductions among the 54 states and territories.<br /> <br /> Even as jobs are eliminated, there will be some new opportunities.<br /> <br /> The budget calls for creating an Air Guard intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) unit made up of two intelligence squadrons and an Intelligence support group. Its job will be to support intelligence operations in cyberspace.<br /> <br /> Those units “are a little smaller than aircraft units,” and they don’t employ as many full-time members, Cheney says. “And you’d need some technical expertise” to land a job there. But “certain areas of the country lend themselves to these types of missions.”<br /> <br /> The budget also expands a network warfare squadron in Maryland that supports the cyber-hunter team.The team defends Air Force networks from malicious threats and from data exfiltration.<br /> <br /> The Air Guard is also scheduled to inherit the MC-12W mission from the Air Force. About 40 ISR aircraft are to be transferred to Guard units in Connecticut, Indiana, Mississippi and Texas.<br /> <br /> Unfortunately, the aircraft will not arrive until 2014, which means they are subject to funds available in a future budget.<br /> <br /> Even with 139 planes on the chopping block for 2013, the Air Guard’s O&M budget proposal dips only slightly. O&M funding keeps planes flying, and troops and bases operating.Rising prices for jet fuel, spare parts, training expenses and base operations are pushing O&M costs up almost as much as retiring 139 aircraft would push costs down, Cheney says.<br /> <br /> The proposed aircraft retirements would reduce the Air Guard fleet from 1,025 to 886. With fewer planes, flying hours would decrease from 208,400 to 196,000 for 2013, Cheney says. But flying hours per crew member, since there will be fewer of them, would increase from seven hours to 8. 3 hours per month.<br /> <br /> There are other cuts in the form of “efficiencies” ordered by the Pentagon Throughout the military.<br /> <br /> “We need to make more disciplined use of our defense dollars,” says Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale.<br /> <br /> For the Air Guard, efficiencies include a 10 percent cut in the funds commanders use for day-to-day operations at the unit level, Cheney says.That means there will be less money for traveling to training exercises, less money for office supplies, less for contract services, less for buying new tires for unit vehicles.<br /> <br /> “It’s going to be very, very tight,” he says.<br /> <br /> If Congress approves the budget as written, 2013 “is going to be a challenge,” Cheney says.<br /> <br /> For the Army National Guard, not as much.<br /> <br /> “Overall, we’re being treated pretty well,” says Col. John Kraft, Army Guard comptroller. “There’s nothing to scream or yell about.”<br /> <br /> End-strength holds steady at 358,200, and the budget includes $1.7 billion worth of new aircraft, vehicles and equipment upgrades, including: <br /> <br /> .. 19 new UH-72A Lakota Light Utility helicopters worth $272 million; <br /> <br /> .. 24 Stryker fighting vehicles worth $118.7 million; <br /> <br /> .. 493 medium tactical vehicles worth $140 million.; <br /> <br /> .. 73 RQ-11 Raven unmanned aerial vehicles worth $5.6 million; and <br /> <br /> .. Bradley fighting vehicle upgrades worth $148 million.<br /> <br /> But there are items missing (box, page 39).<br /> <br /> The Army is asking for $1.3 billion to buy 59 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and $1.4 billion to buy 25 new CH-47 Chinooks and upgrade 19 others. But none of them are for the Army Guard.<br /> <br /> And the budget cancels the modernized expanded capability vehicle, an upgraded Humvee. Instead, the Army and Marine Corps have decided to go ahead with the joint light tactical vehicle, a new, v-hulled troop carrier that is designed to be more survivable than the Humvee.<br /> <br /> But the JLTV will take years to design, build and be put into service. In the meantime, the Army, and particuLarly the Army Guard, will have to make do with aging, less capable Humvees.<br /> <br /> Thanks to the OCO infusion, Army Guard O&M funding would rise to almost $7.5 billion for 2013, so the Army Guard can afford a slight increase in tank training miles, 124, and in helicopter flying hours, 6.4 per month per aviator, Kraft says.<br /> <br /> And for the first time, the Army budgets $83 million for additional training in 2013 “to enhance the role of the Army Guard and Army Reserve as operational forces,” says Army comptroller Maj. Gen. Phillip McGhee.<br /> <br /> Support for a robust Army Guard and Army Reserve goes to the top.Panetta stressed the importance of maintaining strong Army reserve forces to “ensure the ability to mobilize quickly” if necessary, even as the active-component Army shrinks.<br /> <br /> The 2013 budget would reduce The active-component Army by almost 10,000 troops, from 562,000 to 552,100, and start it on a course to shrink another 62,000 by 2017. The Pentagon doesn’t expect U.S. forces to get involved in large land wars for the foreseeable future, so force planners say an Army of 490,000 will be sufficient.<br /> <br /> Keeping the Army Guard at 358,200 soldiers gives the Army a sizeable reserve that is “pretty wellequipped to provide the surge capability,” says Kraft.<br /> <br /> And after 10 years of war, the Army Guard has 92 percent of its required critical and dual-use equipment on hand. That’s a major improvement. As recently as 2007, some Guard units reported having little more than half of its essential gear on hand.<br /> <br /> Troop reductions are considered essential because personnel costs have ballooned. Generous pay raises and spiraling benefits costs have pushed up Personnel costs up by 90 percent since 2001, says Hale, the Pentagon comptroller.Pay and benefits now consume “about a third of our budget.” <br /> <br /> In addition to troop cuts, future pay raises are going to be skimpier. After the 1.7 percent raise planned for 2013 and another for 2014, raises will be limited to a half percent in 2015, 1 percent in 2016 and 1.5 percent in 2017.<br /> <br /> And there will be higher fees for retiree health care coverage (box, page41) , Hale says.<br /> <br /> New fees for the TRICARE for Life program for retirees age 65 and over would push costs from $520 a year now to as high as $1,950 a year in 2016 for “tier three” retirees who receive $45,000 or more in retired pay, he says.<br /> <br /> Fees for tier-one and tier-two retirees would increase from $520 to $850 and $1,450 respectively. Enrollment fees would be imposed and annual Deductibles would increase for TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Extra.<br /> <br /> Pharmacy co-pays also would increase to encourage patients to use generic drugs and order drugs by mail, Hale says.<br /> <br /> Despite the new fees, TRICARE “would still be quite generous compared to typical private-sector plans,” Hale says. Aetna and Blue Cross for federal employees, for example, cost families $4,000 to $5,000 a year.<br /> <br /> Milcon is also targeted in the 2013 budget. Air Guard construction takes a major hit, dropping from $116.2 million this year to $42.4 million in 2013, about a 65 percent reduction.The Army Guard escapes with about a 20 percent cut, from $773.6 million this year to $614 million for 2013.<br /> <br /> Construction spending across the military declines from $11.4 billion this year to $9.6 billion for 2013.<br /> <br /> “We rephased military Construction,” Hale explains. Force structure cuts “left us unsure where we need to make the milcon investments,” so many have been postponed.<br /> <br /> Over the next five years, planned troop cuts would reduce the activecomponent services by 103,000 troops and the reserves by 22,000, leaving excess base infrastructure.<br /> <br /> The Pentagon is asking Congress to approve two more rounds of base closures, one in 2013 and one in 2015, “to consolidate our infrastructure” Hale says.<br /> <br /> Thrift is a constant theme in the 2013 budget, driven largely by the Budget Control Act passed by Congress last summer to reduce defense spending by $259 billion over the next five years and $487 billion over the next decade.<br /> <br /> But talk about big defense spending cuts can be misleading. Under the proposed budget, defense spending actually goes down in only one year—2013.After that, the base budget climbs steadily, reaching $567.3 by 2017.<br /> <br /> What’s called “cuts” after 2013 are actually smaller increases than were planned in the 2012 budget, which would have pushed defense spending to $621.6 billion by 2017.<br /> <br /> Now the budget faces months of scrutiny and almost certainly some revision in Congress.<br /> <br /> “I do not fully endorse this budget request. Indeed, I am seriously concerned about how we arrived at this point,” McCain said.<br /> <br /> Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said “it’s not clear how slashing the armed forces by over 100,000” over the next five years will make the military more nimble and flexible.<br /> <br /> But Levin and Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the senior Democrat on the HASC, both noted that the top lines of the 2013 budget conform with the Budget Control Act levels set by Congress last year.<br /> <br /> William Matthews is a Springfield, Va.- based freelance writer who specializes in military matters. He can be contacted via email@example.com.