Schenectady County

Air base to get back planes cut last year

Stratton Air National Guard Base will get back two of the three C-130H aircraft lost during military

Stratton Air National Guard Base will get back two of the three C-130H aircraft lost during military spending cuts last year.

The U.S. Air Force decided to return the big transport airplanes to the base some time later this year, after they were trimmed from the budget in 2012. The bases in Glenville and Niagara Falls were among eight across the nation to see the return of aircraft lost through cuts made in the National Defense Authorization Act last year.

“At a time when our defense operations are facing significant cuts, it’s great news that Schenectady’s 109th Airlift Wing will keep two more C-130s than was initially expected,” U.S. Sen Charles Schumer said in a statement released Thursday. “The decision to send these aircraft to Schenectady demonstrates the strength of its guard unit, and solidifies the wing’s long-term role in the Air Force’s mission.”

The change was outlined in the recommendations from the Intra-theater Airlift Working Group — a committee of military personnel formed in January to address a demand from Congress that the Air Force maintain 32 cargo aircraft originally slated for retirement. The group determined the Air Force should retain a minimum of 358 C-130 aircraft in its fleet until 2015, according to a study released to Congress Wednesday.

But there’s a catch: The pair of C-130s returning to Stratton aren’t likely to do much flying. Though the aircraft are returning, the military isn’t providing any crews to fly or maintain them.

Basically, the aircraft will remain hangared unless they’re needed, said Eric Durr, a spokesman for the National Guard. The returned airplanes do, however, mean Stratton will get an additional allocation from the military to purchase parts.

“They’re essentially spares,” he said Thursday.

The 109th has nearly 500 guardsmen who sometimes fly 3,000 cumulative hours in a matter of weeks. The base employs nearly 1,400 people, has an annual economic impact estimated at more than $123 million and flies missions to Greenland and the South Pole with the only ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft in the Air Force inventory.

Last year, the Armed Services Committee overwhelmingly backed a $642 billion defense bill, ignoring the Pentagon’s cost-saving request for another round of domestic base closings. The committee crafted a military spending plan that exceeds the level President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to in 2011 by more than $8 billion.

Originally, the cuts would have trimmed $8.7 billion from the Air Force budget and affected 60 installations. The plan would have retired more than 200 aircraft by last fall and nearly 300 more over five years.

Among them were four of the 14 aircraft at Stratton, originally slated to be either retired or moved to other bases sometime in 2013. One of the four C-130s has since been on loan to a base in Arkansas.

And while the return of two airplanes isn’t a windfall for Stratton, it’s ongoing evidence that the military regards the base as one with a vital mission. Durr said most airlift wing bases maintain a maximum of eight C-130 aircraft. Stratton had more than that even before the return of the two airplanes.

“The 109th still have one of these key missions nobody else does by providing airlift capabilities to Antarctica and Greenland,” he said.

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