A request has been made to conduct a Congressional field hearing in Fort Smith related to U.S. defense budget cuts that would change the mission of the 188th Fighter Wing, according to U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers.
Womack teased Saturday night (April 14) during his comments at the Sebastian County Lincoln Day Dinner that the field hearing could land in Fort Smith in the near future.
“We have a big fight on our hands (to save the 188th) ... And that fight is far from over,” Womack told the about 300 in the crowd.
Broad cuts in U.S. defense spending include the removal of the 20 A-10 Thunderbolt fighter plans from the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith. The loss of the fighter mission is scheduled to be replaced with the unmanned Predator drone. The drones and intelligence specialists needed to analyze drone-driven data would not be based in Fort Smith.
Community officials and former 188th officials were concerned the lack of planes would result in deep job losses. The 188th now has about 1,000 personnel attached to the unit, with a little more than 300 in a full-time status. Initial estimates were that the full-time numbers could fall to around 55 with the new mission.
However, the Air Force changes 188th authorized personnel from 972 in fiscal year 2011 to 802 in fiscal year 2013 — far fewer job cuts than previously estimated by local officials.
Overall, the Air Force proposed reductions of 3,900 active-duty, 5,100 Air National Guard and 900 Air Force Reserve positions.
On Mar. 8 it was learned that the National Governors Association would present a counter plan to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. The new plan would seek cuts that are more proportional between the Active duty and Air Guard and creates greater savings than the Air Force plan. According to Matt DeCample, a spokesman for Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, the NGA plan would remove the A-10 mission from the 188th and return the F-16.
In a brief phone interview after the Saturday night Lincoln Day Dinner, Womack said U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., initially lobbied for U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., to include Fort Smith on a planned series of Congressional field hearings related to security issues resulting from changes in the proposed defense budget cuts.
Forbes, whose district includes significant military installations on the East Coast, is the chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Readiness.
Womack said Forbes has tentatively scheduled a series of about 10 field hearings on how the defense budget changes will impact national security. Womack said he has talked to Forbes about the 188th situation, and has filed a formal request for one of the hearings to be in Fort Smith.
“It’s not a done deal,” Womack said of the request. “But if they hold the field hearings, I’m confident we’re going to have one of the stops.”
Congress returns from the Easter recess on Monday (April 16), and Womack said he plans to check with Forbes’ office immediately on the status of the field hearings.