Equipment critical to both domestic and warfighting missions and aircraft essential to guarding the nation's air sovereignty remain areas of concern for the National Guard.
That was the message Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, director of the Air National Guard, and Army Maj. Gen. Raymond W. Carpenter, acting deputy director of the Army National Guard, gave members of the House Armed Services Committee's air and land forces subcommittee May 5.
"The Army has made great progress toward improving equipping levels within the Army National Guard," Carpenter said. "In recent years, the Army has made an unprecedented level of investment in Army National Guard equipment."
But both Carpenter and Wyatt said more needs to be done – and the Air Guard director sounded a warning about aging F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighter aircraft.
"Our primary concern is that 80 percent of the F-16s, the backbone of our air-sovereignty alert force, will begin reaching the end of their service life in eight years," Wyatt said. "We need solutions for what we in the Air National Guard refer to as the 'mid-term gap,' and for long-term recapitalization. Neither of these can be sacrificed.
"If we sacrifice the mid-term, we risk uncovering a critical line of defense. If we sacrifice the long term, or fifth generation, we risk what can best be referred to as our children and grandchildren's critical edge. Everything has to be on the table. This infrastructure of equipment is not just fighters; it includes tankers, air traffic control, command and control, security and communications – the entire system supporting and protecting our nation's last line of defense."
Critical dual-use items needed for both domestic and overseas missions are a top priority for the Army National Guard and the National Guard Bureau, Carpenter told committee members.
"It is ... important to note that a significant quantity of critical dual-use equipment, while it may have been issued to [Army National Guard] units, is chronically unavailable to governors ... due to continuing rotational deployments," Carpenter said.
Modernizing the truck fleet, procuring more battle command equipment and expanding stocks of water purification systems, generators, material-handling equipment, field feeding systems, tactical ambulances and aviation ground equipment are key concerns for the Army National Guard.
"We appreciate ... the strong interest of the Congress and the Department of Defense in closing the gap between our domestic requirements and the available equipment in our armories and motor pools," Carpenter said.
"Shortfalls in equipment will impact the Air National Guard's ability to support the National Guard's response to disasters and terrorist incidents in the homeland," Wyatt warned. "Improved equipping strengthens readiness for both overseas and homeland missions and improves our capability to train on mission-essential equipment."
The 1950s technology used by air traffic controllers and the 40 percent of the Air National Guard's vehicles that are at or beyond their life expectancy also are areas of concern for the Air Guard, he added.
The hearing was intended to get a straightforward assessment of the National Guard's equipment levels in light of the Commission of the National Guard and Reserves recommendation that the Guard be equipped and resourced as an operational reserve rather than the Cold War model of a strategic reserve, said U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, the committee chairman.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to provide Congress with a detailed budget in the coming weeks, and the directors said they could provide more information once that budget is released.
By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Special to American Forces Press Service
Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves at the National Guard Bureau
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