FORT WAYNE – Two more aircraft have been proposed to replace the A-10 combat squadron at Fort Wayne's Air National Guard base.
The Air Force has suggested installing an airlift wing – large planes used to transport troops and cargo – at the Ferguson Road complex, according to the chief of the Indiana National Guard.
But Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger said Tuesday that he, other Guard adjutant generals and President Obama's Council of Governors are opposed to the switch.
Umbarger said the conversion would require extensive renovations at the 122nd Fighter Wing. He noted that an airlift plane such as the C-130 "wouldn't even fit into a hangar" at the Fort Wayne base.
Instead, Umbarger said he and National Guard leaders have offered a counterproposal: The base would either retain its A-10 Warthogs or return to flying F-16 Fighting Falcons. The 122nd Fighter Wing flew F-16s for two decades before changing to A-10s in recent years.
"It's back in the Air Force's hands at this point," Umbarger said in an interview.
Rep. Mike Pence, R-6th, supported Umbarger's recommendation during a base tour and news conference Tuesday.
"This is a fighter base, and I think it's important that Fort Wayne dig in and make the case for this continuing to be a fighter base for many years to come," said Pence, the Republican candidate for governor.
He said the mission should continue "whether it's these A-10 Warthogs or whether it's going back to another fighter that was here before."
As part of a blueprint to trim $50 billion in costs, the Air Force in February proposed reducing 9,900 people and retiring 286 aircraft, with most of the cuts coming from the Air National Guard.
That plan would replace about 20 A-10 jets at the Fort Wayne base with half as many MC-12W propeller planes used for intelligence and surveillance.
Pence called the budget cuts "penny-wise and pound-foolish," stressing that Air National Guard bases cost far less to operate than active-duty Air Force bases.
The 122nd Fighter Wing is "a major economic force here in northeastern Indiana," Pence said. "But this is not just about jobs. … I really do believe this is right for our military, and it is right for our taxpayers. The Air National Guard is 6 percent of the USAF budget but 35 percent of its mission."
Under the original Air Force plan to replace A-10s with MC-12s, the Fort Wayne base would lose 152 jobs, including 85 full-time personnel. More than 1,200 people are assigned to the base, with 364 of them in full-time positions. The Department of Defense budget for fiscal 2013 requires congressional approval before Oct. 1.
"We are in the midst of a process. We are in the midst of a discussion, and that involves proposals and counterproposals," Pence said.
With U.S. combat operations concluded in Iraq and winding down in Afghanistan, Pence said the Air Force wants to shift its emphasis to active-duty bases and personnel.
"I am determined to preserve the expanded role that the Air National Guard has won through great sacrifice and great professionalism in our 21st-century military," he said.
Civilian soldiers in the National Guard have been "at the tip of the spear" in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the fight against terrorism, Pence said.