FORT WAYNE – Fort Waynes Air National Guard base is counting on suit-and-tie-wearing ground troops in the nations Capitol to protect its 21 combat jets.
Reps. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, and Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, vowed Saturday that Indianas congressional delegation will do its best to prevent the Air Force from retiring the A-10 squadron at the 122nd Fighter Wing.
This is all hands on deck for so many reasons, Stutzman said at a news conference in a hangar at the Ferguson Road base.
I believe this is a battle worth having and that we can have success, Donnelly said, an A-10 Warthog parked behind him.
That fight will be fought on the Hill in Washington, said Maj. Gen. Martin Umbarger, the adjutant general for the Indiana National Guard.
Aides to Republican Sens. Dan Coats and Richard Lugar and Reps. Dan Burton, R-5th, and Mike Pence, R-6th, attended the news conference.
Subject to congressional approval, the Air Force announced in February a plan to shave $50 billion in costs by retiring 286 aircraft and cutting 9,900 personnel, largely from Air National Guard bases. The proposal would replace the A-10 jets at the 122nd Fighter Wing with nine to 11 MC-12W turboprop planes used for surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance missions.
The shift is expected to eliminate 152 jobs at the base, including 85 full-time personnel, as the fighter wing would no longer maintain weapons and munitions. More than 1,200 people work there, including 364 full-time airmen.
Noting that the 122nd Fighter Wing contributes $60 million a year to the local economy, Mayor Tom Henry said Saturday, To have something like that shaken, Im not so sure we could ever recover.
Umbarger said the National Guard has made a counterproposal to the Air Force that would trim the number of A-10s at the base from 21 to 18. Some jobs would be lost as a result, but far fewer than if the A-10 squadron is replaced, he said.
Air Force leaders told the Senate Armed Forces Committee last week they are willing to reconsider planned cuts at Air National Guard bases. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairs the committee; his state is home to a base that would lose two dozen A-10s and 561 jobs under the original realignment blueprint.
Stutzman and Donnelly each said the Air Force should reduce personnel and aircraft at overseas bases before downsizing in the U.S.
This is about standing up for our national defense by doing the right thing for the American taxpayers, Stutzman said. The Air National Guard provides 35 percent of Air Force capacity for 6 percent of its budget, he said.
It makes no sense to target one of the most efficient units, Stutzman said, adding that the Fort Wayne base spends 28 cents for ever dollar spent by an active-duty Air Force base.
Financially, all the facts are on Fort Waynes side, said Donnelly, the Democratic candidate for Lugars Senate seat.
Our country saves money by having such an extraordinarily well-run operation and an operation that is so effective as well, he said.
Congress has until the end of September to either pass a budget or extend appropriations for the Department of Defense, which must slash its spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years under the Budget Control Act passed last summer.
We are still early in this debate, Umbarger said.