story by Michael Tilley
The 188th Fighter Wing, which is in the process of converting to an intelligence and recon unit, has received approval to spend $12.5 million to build a 40,000-square-foot facility that the 188th commander says could help the unit become an “ISR Center of Excellence.”
Broad cuts in U.S. defense spending – possibly up to $500 billion over 10 years – include the removal of the 20 A-10 Thunderbolt fighter planes from the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith. It was announced in 2012 that the A-10 Thunderbolt fighters of the 188th would be lost and the unit’s mission would change to an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission.
With the loss of the A-10 mission and the new MQ9 (drone) mission, along with the relocation of the 123rd Intelligence Squadron from Little Rock Air Force Base to Fort Smith and other shifts, Fort Smith's base should only see a small reduction in individuals stationed at the site, according to 188th commander Col. Mark Anderson.
Anderson said Sept. 6, 2013, that 977 positions are based at the 188th, which will be reduced to 960 positions as a result of the realignment.
In a March 19 note to Dr. Jerry Stewart and Kevin Wear, Anderson said the funding and the new mission has the potential to create a unique military operation in Fort Smith. Stewart is chairman of the 188th Fighter Wing-Fort Chaffee Community Council, and Wear is a former 188th commander.
“Our conversion from a fighter mission to an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), targeting and remotely piloted aircraft mission is progressing on schedule,” Anderson noted in the e-mail message to Stewart and Wear. “Our vision for the 188th is an ISR Center of Excellence where all three facets of the mission operate on the same installation. This will be the first of its kind in the Air National Guard. We’re excited about the future of the 188th and extremely proud that the Air Force has entrusted us with such an important, cutting-edge mission.”
Anderson said the early design work from the funding “could speed up our Fully Operational Capability status in all missions.” He also called the news a “huge win” for the 188th and the National Guard.
“This facility will be the environment where groundbreaking tactics techniques and procedures are be formulated for all the components Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance professionals. We still have some work to do (Getting the actual RPA airframes, Getting a Manned airplane, SOF partnership….etc) but this is another big step toward the establishment of the Arkansas Reconnaissance of Excellence,” Anderson wrote. “Much, thanks goes to all the members of the Community Council that engaged and supported this effort.”
Anderson provided this statement on Thursday to The City Wire: “Our conversion from a fighter mission to an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), targeting and remotely piloted aircraft mission is progressing on schedule. Our vision for the 188th is an ISR Center of Excellence where all three facets of the mission operate on the same installation. This will be the first of its kind in the Air National Guard. We’re excited about the future of the 188th and extremely proud that the Air Force has entrusted us with such an important, cutting-edge mission.”
Expediting a new mission would likely be welcomed by members of the 188th. The A-10 planes began leaving two at a time in September. The planes are flown to their new home at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia with the 75th Fighter Squadron. There are five A-10’s remaining, and the last two are scheduled to leave June 7. On that same day, the unit plans a maintenance “stand down” ceremony for the fighter mission, and a “stand up” ceremony for the new mission.