Carney pushes to update C-130 fleet

Carney pushes to update C-130 fleet

John Carney has a bill in search of sponsors. A lot of them. And he knows it.

“Got a long way to go,” Carney, the state’s sole representative in the U.S. House, said Monday about his quest to upgrade the aging C-130 transport airplanes before worldwide digital navigation and air traffic control regulations make them obsolete by 2020. “That’s the challenge ahead of us.”

Carney is looking at the bright side – and says the facts are on his side.

“We have a really compelling case, in my view,” Carney said following remarks to 200 airmen gathered at the New Castle Air National Guard base. “It’s simple. Fiscally, it makes sense. And operationally, it makes sense. Basically, we give the Air Force the flexibility they need to make the best operational and financial decision.”

Carney and members of the 166th Airlift Wing – and reservists in 17 other states – hope there is a decision to upgrade rather than retire aging aircraft. Without them, the units essentially will disappear.

“This could mean the end of the Delaware National Guard C-130 flying mission, along with the associated jobs that go with it,” said Carney, a Democrat who is opposed by Republican Rose Izzo in his bid for a third term in Congress. “Put simply, this would be a body blow to our Delaware Air National Guard.”

More than 1,200 airmen serve in the 166th wing – about 300 full-timers, with the rest traditional Guardsmen. More than 1,100 members of the unit support the flying mission, according to Tech. Sgt. Ben Matwey, a 166th spokesman.

The airlift missions flown by the propeller-driven C-130s rely on the “Total Force” the Air Force likes to tout. Altogether, the active and reserve Air Force has 362 C-130s devoted to the combat delivery mission; 179 are owned by the Air Guard. Of the total, 261 are older C-130H models. Eight of these, all 1980s-era models, make up the Delaware Air Guard’s entire fleet.

There are multiple options for keeping the 166th in business, including replacing all of the airplanes with all-digital C-130Js. Given the squeeze on federal spending and the possibility of mandatory “sequestration” cuts returning in fiscal 2016, spending $664 million to replace them seems unlikely. Carney even expressed doubt that the the Air Force would seriously consider a $131.2 million full digital conversion, although he noted that “influential members” support it.

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