Editor’s note: Story is updated to include comments from the 188th Fighter Wing Steering Committee.
More details released Thursday (Jan. 26) by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about “substantial” defense budget cuts did little to provide clarity as to the future of military units in Arkansas — specifically the 188th Fighter Wing based in Fort Smith.
It was first announced Nov. 22 that the 188th Fighter Wing based at the Fort Smith Regional Airport may be one of the many military cuts possibly to result from Congressional failure to reach a deficit-cutting agreement.
The unit employs about 350 full-time personnel, with about 1,000 on the base once a month for training.
Concern about the 188th’s future comes four years after the unit converted from the F-16 fighter jet to the A-10 ground support aircraft. Conversion to the A-10 was the product of a last minute reversal of a decision to close the 188th. During May 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission was faced with 834 closings or realignment recommendations from the Department of Defense.
Panetta outlined in broad strokes on Thursday the results of “a very fundamental review” of “our spending priorities” after being directed to cut $487 billion in the next 10 years. Panetta said the U.S. is at a strategic turning point after a decade of war and “very substantial growth in the defense budget.” Panetta also said President Obama will ask Congress for two BRAC rounds (military base closure process) in 2013 and 2017 — news likely be the more debated element of the defense budget cutting plan.
Lt. Col. Keith Moore, a public affairs officer with the Arkansas National Guard, said immediately after Panetta’s press conference that no specific details were released about cuts to Arkansas units. He said big cuts to specific military branches and groups were announced but “they are not applying them to particular units yet.”
As to the BRAC news, Moore said state Guard officials are also uncertain.
“We don’t yet know what that means,” Moore said, adding that it is unclear if the specific cuts will happen before or after BRAC, or if cuts will be proposed by the Department of Defense within the BRAC process.
Updated info: Col. Kevin Wear (retired), chairman of the 188th Fighter Wing Steering Committee and former 188th Commander, said there is real concern the 188th will lose its flying mission.
“We believe we are at risk to lose the A-10s in Fort Smith. While it is understood that cuts must be made in many areas to reduce our nation's deficit spending trend, those cuts need to be made for the right reasons. The facts support that if there is only one A-10 base in the world, it should be in Fort Smith, Arkansas if the decision makers are doing the right things for the right reasons,” Wear said in the statement. (The complete statement is at the end of this report.)
Cuts mentioned by Panetta would reduce spending during the next five fiscal years by $259 billion. The fiscal year 2013 budget would be $525 billion, down from $531 billion in 2012. An additional overseas operations budget for 2013 woud be $88.4 billion, down from $115 billion in 2012.
Specific cuts and reductions include:
• Gradual reduction of the active Army to 490,000 — now at 562,000 — in five years;
Reduction of the U.S. Marine Corps from 202,000 now to 182,000 in five years;
• Reduce size of U.S. Air Force airlift fleet;
• Cut $60 billion in identified possible savings within the Department of Defense;
• Use “more limited pay raises” for military personnel beginning in 2015; and,
• Reduce military health care costs by increasing co-pays and other costs for military retirees.
Panetta said the cuts and new defense strategy will require “the full support of Congress.” He warned that cuts and changes will impact all states and all Congressional districts, adding that the cuts will determine if the push for budget cuts “is about talk or about action.”
He also warned that deeper cuts “would hollow out the force.”
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the budget plan proposed placed national security ahead of “parochial interests.” He said members of Congress and the public should know that “capability is more important than size.”
Link here for a PDF of the proposed cuts.
COMPLETE STATEMENT FROM THE 188TH FIGHTER WING STEERING COMMITTEE
Members of the 188th Fighter Wing Steering Committee, which is an arm of the 188th Fighter Wing / Fort Chaffee Community Council, watched online as the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, unveiled the broad scope of the Pentagon’s recommendations for our nation’s military in the next decade.
Members of the steering committee are in contact and working diligently with Gen. William Wofford, Adjutant General for the State of Arkansas, members of his staff, the 188th Fighter Wing, and with members of our U.S. Congressional Delegation as well as their staffers.
At this time we do not know for certain when – or how – the Pentagon will offer specific guidance about the 188th Fighter Wing. Secretary Panetta acknowledged in his remarks today that this is “the beginning – and not the end – of this process.”
The 188th steering committee is committed to protecting the A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthogs") on the ramp in Fort Smith, Arkansas because this weapons system is ideally suited for the airspace and range size and quality, its proximity to the air guard base, and the quality of its unit members, who continue to perform valiantly in combat and at home. The Flying Razorbacks provide THE lowest-cost training of any fighter wing in the United States Air Force, Air Guard, or Reserves. The community council, during the coming weeks and months, is committed to telling that story in Washington, D. C.
Therefore, in the coming days, the community council will reveal an opportunity for citizens of our region to impact any final decisions that will be made late this year or early next year. The community council will also provide an avenue to support our unit members and their family members during this time of uncertainty, especially as the fighter component prepares for combat deployment later this year.
Following this afternoon's announcements by the SECDEF and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, steering committee chairman Col. (Ret) Kevin Wear (former Commander 188th Fighter Wing) made the following statement; "We believe we are at risk to lose the A-10s in Fort Smith. While it is understood that cuts must be made in many areas to reduce our nation's deficit spending trend, those cuts need to be made for the right reasons. The facts support that if there is only one A-10 base in the world, it should be in Fort Smith, Arkansas if the decision makers are doing the right things for the right reasons. If the decision is based on cost effectiveness and combat efficiencies, on saving money, on "bang-for-buck", on the most firepower available when needed, A-10s need to be on the ramp in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The Flying Razorbacks offer the best value for A-10 basing in the world. That message will be sent all the way to the Secretary of Defense and members of this community, friends and family of the 188th, will soon have an opportunity to voice their support. What is best for this community, the 1000+ jobs, and the $150 million annual economic impact of the 188th in Western Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma, just so happens to be what is also best for the nation's defense. With help from members of the community and our Congressional Delegation, we will take that message to the top of the chain."
The 188th Fighter Wing / Fort Chaffee Community Council’s special 188th steering committee is working with the Arkansas National Guard, Governor Mike Beebe and members of the Arkansas congressional delegation to protect the 188th from potential Department of Defense budget cuts in 2012.