Niagara Gazette — The U.S. Air Force announced Thursday that it will retain additional airlift aircraft through 2014, including the bulk of C-130s currently belonging to the 914th Airlift Wing at the Niagara Air Reserve Station in Niagara Falls.
The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act directed the Air Force to keep a total of 358 aircraft through fiscal year 2013. It also included language directing the retention of additional intra-theater airlift aircraft above what was brought back in a previous AF proposal submitted in November of 2012.
The Air Force has agreed to maintain the same limit through 2014, allowing for additional study.
"Although we were required to retain aircraft only through the end of this fiscal year, we extended the aircraft through (fiscal year 2014) to allow time to complete additional analysis and to coordinate with our stakeholders," said Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley in a press release issued by the airbase on Thursday.
Master Sgt. Kevin Nichols, a spokesperson for the 914th Airlift Wing, said as a result of Thursday's announcement the unit will have nine C-130s for the remainder of 2013, down from its current level of 11. In 2014, he said, the unit is expected to receive another backup C-130, resulting in a total of eight primary and two backup planes.
As a result, Nichols said, the 914th mission will essentially remain the same for this year and into 2014.
"We're still a viable unit," Nichols said.
The New York Air National Guard's 107th Airlift Wing, which also operates out of the Falls airbase, is expected to receive a new mission in the future, perhaps involving drones.
Thursday's changes followed the recommendations of an "intra-theater airlift working group" created under the 2013 NDAA. The working group included representatives from the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, Air Mobility Command and Headquarters Air Force. Members were charged with developing options to comply with the guidance under the NDAA.
"The task of the IAWG was to provide the Secretary of the Air Force with recommendations for the locations, numbers, primary or back-up status, and duration of the aircraft we retained," explained Col. James Jacobson, Chairman of the Intra-theater Airlift Working Group.
"The AF evaluated numerous criteria," Jacobson said. "Among the criteria, the Air Force focused its attention on intra-theater airlift locations still affected by force structure reductions taken as part of the (fiscal year 2013) President's Budget and locations that did not receive a backfill mission as part of the USAF Total Force Proposal."
Leaders pointed out that none of the aircraft are newly-acquired.
"These aircraft were all scheduled to be retired in 2013 and 2014," said Jacobson. "So, to meet the FY13 NDAA directive, we retained the aircraft and, in some cases, restored the associated personnel."
The service will reassess force structure during the FY15 budget cycle.