FAIRFIELD — Travis Air Force Base is not expected to suffer much from the proposed 2015 Department of Defense budget, but what happens with proposed cuts to the Air Force’s A-10 attack jet could affect how likely the KC-10 Extender fleet is to be retired soon.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in a Monday press conference, said that retirement of the A-10 and the U-2 reconnaissance jet are two of the cuts included in the Defense Department’s proposal.
“It is interesting that Hagel warned that if the budget sequester is not repealed, we will see the retirement of the KC-10 in 2016,” said Bud Ross of the Travis Community Consortium, the alliance of local governments and businesses that aims to protect Travis Air Force Base.
Ross said that if the sequestration is re-enacted, “it will be devastating.”
The Air Force has already floated the idea of retiring the KC-10 fleet, nearly half of which is stationed at Travis. In response, the consortium kicked into action, lobbying to keep Travis from suffering personnel and mission losses if that happens.
Ross pointed out that previous efforts to retire the A-10 ran into tough opposition from members of Congress whose districts contained bases where the A-10s were stationed.
“The politics of that aircraft is that 16 states have a voice in keeping the A-10, including Army and Guard Reserve,” Ross said. “I can’t see the A-10 being retired. If you can’t retire the A-10, then we could see the KC-10 (retirement) being moved up.”
Paul Hirsh, the Travis Community Consortium’s defense consultant, shares a similar view. He said he expects to see “a knock-down, drag-out fight” in Congress from representatives whose districts have bases with A-10 squadrons.
Hagel also proposed reducing the active military by 13 percent and taking another 5 percent from the Reserve. He also wants to limit pay raises for rank-and-file personnel to 1 percent and freeze pay for flag officers to 2014 levels. He still plans to continue buying the F-35A strike fighter, the Long Range Strike Bomber and the KC-46A tanker.
Hirsh said that generally, the Air Force is going to have to operate with less funding, but Hagel’s proposal does not really adversely affect Travis.
“Overall, the Air Force is going to lose people. Their force structure is going to go down,” Hirsh said.
“If they are going to cut civilian and military operations, you have to assume that is going to be fairly evenly distributed,” Ross said of the manpower cuts. “We are going to have to see. They are already doing early retirement boards for officers and noncommissioned officers.”
The Defense Department is asking for another base realignment and closure round in 2017 to eliminate excess facilities, but Hirsh expects that Congress will “kick that can down the road” for a future Congress.
Ross also said that the budget that Hagel is proposing and the budget that the president finally signs could be two very different things.
In the meantime, the Travis Community Consortium will keep a close eye on what the Defense Department and Congress do with the military’s budget.
The Travis Community Consortium has set a four-year, eight-point strategic plan. The top points are to seek public assurances that Travis will get bridge missions that will backfill the loss of the KC-10, that manpower levels will stay constant at the base and a push to have Travis keep its air refueling mission.
That means cornering congressional representatives and Air Force leaders, with lobbying trips to Washington, D.C. and Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
“We will watch very intently what transpires,” Ross said of what he described as an “extremely important period of intense scrutiny that will be required to look out for the best interests of Travis.”
Hirsh said the consortium is realistic in the expectation that there will be changes at Travis, with the expected departure of its KC-10s. But, he said, the consortium’s mission is to make sure Travis maintains a solid position to bed down the next generation, the KC-46s.
“From our standpoint, the KC-10s will eventually be coming out of the Air Force and the (Travis Community Consortium)’s efforts will be to make the case that Travis is the best base with its geopolitical location, good infrastructure and no encroachment,” Hirsh said.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.