Looming cuts to defense spending has some federal legislators fearing that Stratton Air National Guard Base in Glenville could once again face losing its C-130H aircraft to military downsizing or consolidation.
New York's senate and congressional delegations co-authored a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last month urging him to leave the aircraft at the base. Relocating the planes to another base would have a negative impact on the readiness and training of the National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing and its missions at the polar caps, the federal legislators wrote in a letter dated Jan. 25.
"Given the historical record which on at least two occasions has shown that the logic and economics of removing the aircraft from Stratton is without merit, we would urge the department in the strongest of terms to avoid the prospect of revisiting the potential transfer of C-130H airframes from Stratton Air National Guard Base as part of any upcoming force structure adjustments," the letter states.
The 109th has nearly 500 guardsmen who sometimes fly 3,000 hours in a matter of weeks. The base employs nearly 1,400 people, has an economic impact estimated at more than $123 million and flies missions to both polar ice caps with the only ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft in the Air Force inventory.
There are four C-130H planes based at Stratton. The aircraft are stationed there to help crews maintain proficiency on the 10 similar LC-130 planes used as support craft for the National Science Foundation's research work in Antarctica and the Arctic Circle.
In 2005, the U.S. Air Force recommended moving the four planes and others from around New York to a new superbase in Arkansas. But the nine-member Base Realignment and Closure Commission rejected the move, ultimately finding that it would come at no real savings to the military, which was the intended purpose of the realignment.
In the 2010 Force Structure proposal, the Air Force revisited plans to move aircraft from 10 sites across the country, including Stratton and the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station in western New York. The military later agreed not to push forward with the move, but instead loaned some of the planes to Little Rock, Ark., including one from Stratton.
National Guard spokesman Eric Durr said the bases most vulnerable to defense spending cuts are the ones that have a less specialized function. Ones that serve a unique purpose are usually insulated from cuts.
"The key is, do you have a unique capability?” he said.
The defense department's budget is expected to be unveiled within the next two weeks. Durr acknowledge that there's a good chance New York could lose some of its aircraft, but wouldn't speculate where the cuts might be.
"As they look at the defense budget, we could lose some aircraft, and that remains to be seen," he said.
“The unique capabilities and expertise that enable our local guardsmen and women to fly that polar mission are a national treasure, as are the thousands of local jobs and millions in economic activity that Stratton brings to Schenectady County.”
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, praised the bi-partisan approach being taken by the Capital Region's delegation in trying to prevent changes that would impact Stratton. He said the base and its planes are a critical component to the region's economy and the 109th's mission.
“The unique capabilities and expertise that enable our local guardsmen and women to fly that polar mission are a national treasure, as are the thousands of local jobs and millions in economic activity that Stratton brings to Schenectady County," he said.
Stephanie Valle, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, said the congressman wants the military to weigh both the economic impact of potential cuts and how they might affect the future readiness of the soldiers stationed at Stratton. She said Gibson, R-Kinderhook, who served 24 years in the U.S. Army, is particularly concerned about how removing the aircraft could affect the 109th's training.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, said he will continue to work with the local congressional delegation to preserve jobs at Stratton. He said the 109th's "unique and critical" mission at Stratton should preclude it from the planned cuts.
"Time after time, the 109th has supplied key missions and pulled off dangerous rescues," he said this week. "The base should continue to play a central role in our national defense, and in the Capital Region economy.”