The federal government spends about $60 million a year keeping Connecticut's 103rd Airlift Wing flying out of Bradley International Airport, which is the reason some military folks around here were real worried about Pentagon budget cuts.
After all, does the nation's defense require 278 trips in the past six months flying VIPs around in the military version of Lear jets? (Connecticut Air National Guard records show a total of 833 missions over that time period, including 538 training flights, 17 "support sorties" and those "distinguished visitor" trips.
But there are cautions sighs of relief coming from the ANG base at Bradley these days.
The ANG boys and girls seem to have dodged the latest budget bullet (maybe that should be financial flack) out of the Pentagon, escaping what could have been a loss of all aircraft, possibly 400 jobs and millions in federal funding.
But it looks like there are still some unsettling questions to be answered.
For the past few years, our Air National Guard folks stationed at Bradley International Airport have been flying around brass hat VIPs and urgent medical cases in the military version of Lear jets. (An example of one mission was flying Gov. Dannel Malloy down to Washington late last year so he could hop a Defense Department flight to visit the troops in Afghanistan. Whitford says that was the only time Malloy used the ANG’s executive jets.)
They also staff an aircraft engine repair and maintenance shop at the base.
Those eight executive-type jets were due to be replaced with C-27 Spartan cargo planes in 2013, according to Col. John Whitford, the spokesman for the Connecticut National Guard. The problem was there were no guaranties about anything once the Obama Administration and Congress and the Pentagon started their budget slashing campaigns.
The danger was that severe cutbacks could “reduce the footprint of the Connecticut Air National Guard,” says Whitford. Translated, that would mean hundreds of job cuts and millions in lost federal cash that would otherwise be paid and spent here. Not a pleasant prospect in a state like Connecticut that’s still reeling from the Great Recession.
The ANG now has about 900 people stationed at Bradley and another 185 down in Orange as an air control squadron.
So, once again, a Connecticut governor and congressional delegation had to wheedle, beg and whine on their knees before the federal budget gurus. (Which, come to think of it, may be good practice if the U.S. Navysub base in Groton is again on the chopping block.) And it seems to have worked.
A few weeks ago, the Air Force released its list of cutbacks and its plan for Connecticut has changed. The good news, according to Whitford, is that the program “still maintains our flying mission in the state and 400 jobs.”
The engine repair operation will stay. Instead of a few of those cargo aircraft, Connecticut’s 103d Airlift Wing is now scheduled to get at least nine twin-engine turbo-prop MC-12s, Whitford says. Those planes will be used for intelligence gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance and support of ground troops. (Hot damn - none of them terrorist bastards will be able to sneak in through the Thimble Isles after those babies arrive.)
But here’s the slightly sticky point: The military Lear jets are due to be gone in 2013, but the MC-12s aren’t due to arrive until 2014. At the moment, no one knows exactly what that potential gap means.
That, says Whitford, is “the question we’re looking at right now.”
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