TRANSCOM Wants To Keep 23 Tankers DoD Cut In 2021
WASHINGTON: Gen. Stephen Lyons, head of Transportation Command, wants Congress to reverse the Air Force’s decision to retire 10 KC-10 tanks and 13 KC-135s in 2021, and to scrap planned further reductions in 2022.
“Aerial refueling is USTRANSCOM’s number one unfunded priority,” Lyons said in a Feb. 20 letter sent to Capitol Hill.
The planned cuts, prior to the projected availability of Boeing’s troubled KC-46 tanker, will “create a capacity bathtub with significant impacts to Combatant Command daily competition and wartime missions, and negatively impact senior leader decision space for mobilization when confronted with a crisis,” Lyons explained.
The the Air Force in mid-December lifted the three-month-long ban on KC-36 cargo and personnel flights, piqued by the discovery that cargo restraints came open of their own accord during test flights. That problem came after years of delays and large cost overruns on what was supposed to be a low-risk program. There also has been an issue with the aircraft’s camera that remains unresolved.
Nonetheless, the Air Force is moving full speed ahead, spending $3.1 billion in 2021, with the current plan to introduce the plane into the fleet by 2023.
The Air Force’s 2021 budget actually would retire 16 KC-135s, six more than Lyons is trying to save. Besides the two tankers, the budget also would retire 24 C-130Hs, which will be replaced by 19 C-130Js in 2021. The air mobility fleet reductions are part of the service’s overall strategy of reducing the number of legacy aircraft that costs so much just to keep them in the sky, in order to invest in new capability.
Restoring the 25 tanker aircraft to the fleet, Lyons argues, will cost only $110 million: $40 million for the KC-135s and $70 million for the KC-10s. “For FY22 and beyond, any further AR aircraft reductions would be on a ‘year- by-year review,’ based on KC-46 progress,” he asserts.
The second big unfunded priority for TRANSCOM is funding to improving the lagging maintenance of the Navy’s Surge Sealift Fleet. Lyons says there is an $85.1 million shortage that prevents four vessels from being certified for action. That money, he says, will allow the needed five-year dry docking for those four ships — the Shughart, Yano, Gordon and Kocak — as well as regular maintenance and spare parts for all 15 Military Sealift Command operated sealift ships.
As Paul has reported, the Navy has had some trouble in keeping tabs on the readiness of its sealift fleet, with discrepancies arising between Military Sealift Command and the Marine Administration about what exactly the status is.
Further, modernization of the sealift fleet is also a looming problem, especially in the current flat budgetary environment where the Navy is focused on future capabilities: the expensive Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, a new class of FFG(X) frigates, and a new class of Large Surface Combatant ships.
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