By Brian Francisco, Washington editor
The Journal Gazette
Published: May 12, 2011 3:00 a.m.
Fort Wayne's fighter-jet base is an example of the Air National Guard's accomplishments and challenges during a budget crunch, the Guard's top officer said Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Lt. General Harry Wyatt was responding to questions from Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. Coats noted that the 122nd Fighter Wing in Fort Wayne made "a successful conversion" from F-16 jets to A-10 planes last year.
"That's been a unit that's been part of base relocations, and it's a facility that I think meets the needs" of the military, Coats said.
Wyatt, director of the Air National Guard, replied, "They have made that transition very smoothly and are combat-ready as we speak."
The Appropriations Defense Subcommittee was reviewing the fiscal 2012 budget request for the military's Guard and Reserve sections.
The 122nd Fighter Wing "is a good example of what we are faced with," Wyatt said. "We have some of the oldest airplanes in the United States Air Force, and our challenge is to make sure that they remain capable, that our people are trained to the operational standards that they currently are at, as we take a look to see what the final recapitalization decisions will be."
Budget constraints mean "some of our legacy platforms are going to be around for a while," he said.
The 122nd Fighter Wing had flown F-16s for 19 years, including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, before converting to the A-10s. The "Warthog" is a larger, slower plane that carries more weapons than the F-16 and is used to support ground troops.
Wyatt said that although the Air National Guard is committed to modernizing its aircraft, "I think our real focus should be on our people, because we have the most experienced, the most mature air crew and maintenance crews in the Air National Guard that we've ever had. And if we don't focus on our people, we'll find out one of these days that we've allowed our capabilities to atrophy."
But likely reductions in defense spending might force the Guard to cut support jobs "to make sure our front-line military capability remains what it is," he said.