MERIDIAN and BILOXI — The Air Force has assured U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), vice chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, that it will not act to retire hundreds of aircraft or transfer support missions, including Air Force assets at Keesler Air Force Base and Key Field Air National Guard Base, without congressional approval.
The FY2013 Air Force budget proposes retirement and divestiture of, among other things, C-130 aircraft from Keesler AFB in Biloxi as well as the homeland defense contingency Air Operations Group and C-27 operational and training units at Key Field in Meridian.
Cochran discussed the restructuring requests at a Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to review the FY2013 budget request for the Air Force. Cochran raised concerns that the Air Force may be moving to mothball or eliminate contingency support missions prior to completion of legislative action to authorize or fund the Defense Department’s FY2013 budget.
“It seems that the Air Force may be getting ahead of the Congress on making decisions to shut down operations of one kind or another in anticipation of cuts that have not been debated or reviewed carefully,” said Cochran.
Cochran asked Air Force secretary Michael B. Donley whether “these decisions that you’ve been making to shut down operations in places like Meridian or Biloxi, Miss., and other places, are final decisions or when do you consider that to become a final decision?”
Donley acknowledged that the Air Force needs congressional approval to implement force structure adjustments.
“Certainly, we need the congressional action on the FY13 proposal to confirm a way forward in these force structure adjustments,” Donley said. “At the same time, I will be frank with the committee that many of our force structure adjustments are front loaded to FY13, so we do need to continue the planning that would allow us to implement our proposals should you approve them. So, we will need to go forward with planning but, again, Congress has the final say on next steps.”
Donley also agreed with Cochran, who said, “So, I understand from that, that operations are not going to be affected in the foreseeable future or during this next fiscal year necessarily unless Congress approves it.”
“That’s correct,” Donley said. “The operation of the Global Hawk Block 30 and the operations of the C-27s that have been delivered, for example, continue.”
The Air Force budget request for FY2013 is a reflection of the overall Department of Defense challenge to restructure the service branches and meet funding cuts required by the Budget Control Act of 2010.