By Michael Hoffman
January 31, 2012
The Air National Guard's top officer took aim at Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz Tuesday, questioning why the service chief protected active duty resources and targeted Guard units in the service's latest round of budget cuts.
Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt, the Air National Guard director, expressed his frustration with Air Force leadership during a panel discussion with the military's Guard and Reserve chiefs at the Reserve Officers Association National Security Symposium in Washington.
"Chief said we are going to do this in a 'balanced' fashion. It will be interesting to see on the 13th of this month the practical implications of what 'balanced' means," Wyatt said, followed by cheers from the crowd.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced on Jan. 26 the Air Force would "divest" its C-27J cargo planes, many of which had been bound for Guard units, and close seven squadrons. Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Adm. James Winnefeld confirmed that four of the seven cut would be Air National Guard squadrons.
The Defense Department will send its defense budget to Congress Feb. 13. It is expected to include the entire layout of what the military will cut to account for the $259 billion reduction in planned defense spending growth over the next five years.
Schwartz has said he remains committed to the Air Force's Guard and Reserve as part of the service's "total force" concept, despite the budget reductions.
"Given the reality of fiscal austerity ahead, the need for maximum efficiency in the Air Force is clear. To this end, the Air Force remains committed to a 'total force' approach, because any solution will be, by necessity, a total force solution. Air Force restructuring will occur across the total force, consistent with future trends and potential threats, our collective priorities, our national security strategy, and our collective capabilities," Schwartz said in December.
Anticipating that the Guard would bear the brunt of the Air Force's budget cut, Wyatt parsed his words, but made sure to drive home his point that the Guard was upset with which units and aircraft the Air Force plans to retire.
"I think there are different interpretations of what 'balanced' really means and I think we are going to get the opportunity to see what 'balanced' means in shaping the Air Force of the future," Wyatt said Tuesday.
The Guard expects the Air Force to order the decommissioning of three of its A-10 Warthog squadrons in Indiana, Arkansas and Michigan, as well as an F-16 squadron in Iowa, according to Guard sources who asked not to be named because the Air Force had not yet made the official force structure announcement.
The three A-10 Guard squadrons set to close -- the 107th, 163rd and 184th Fighter Squadrons -- recently transitioned from F-16 squadrons as part of the congressionally mandated Base Realignment and Closure process.
Some airmen from those Warthog squadrons, as well as the 124th Fighter Squadron, which Guard officials said also appears vulnerable, will transition to other missions, such as flying MQ-9 Reapers, Schwartz said Jan. 27.
Retiring three Guard A-10 squadrons will cut the Guard's A-10 fleet in half from 108 aircraft to 54. Wyatt questioned whether retiring Guard squadrons lined up with the new defense strategy that emphasizes "reversibility" -- or the ability to easily undo changes made amid the budget growth reductions.
Meanwhile, Wyatt's counterpart on the Army side praised Army leadership for its continued commitment to the Army Guard and Reserve. Army Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz hinted during the panel that he doesn't expect the Reserve to absorb major cuts when the defense budget is released Feb. 13.
Air Guard leaders saw these cuts coming. Adjutants general in Colorado and Texas both commended the Army for how it handled its reserve component, while predicting the Air Force would target the Guard and protect its active component in retiring aircraft and units.
When approached after the panel and asked if he'd like to further explain his pointed critique over Schwartz's definition of "balance," Wyatt said he couldn't say more until Feb. 13.
"Just wait until the [president's budget] comes out and then you'll know exactly what I am talking about," Wyatt said.
Venerable A-10 Warthog Faces Extinction
5 A-10 squadrons to be cut