Job losses deep with unmanned 188th mission

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 98 views 

The Pentagon’s budget proposed Monday (Feb. 13) continues to push for deep cuts in A-10 units nationwide — a push that could result in about 300 job losses in Fort Smith, according to a rough estimate by the 188th Steering Committee.

An Air Force “re-missioning” plan released Feb. 3 calls for the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith to lose its 20 A-10 aircraft, with the unit to convert to operating the unmanned Predator aircraft.

Moving the A-10’s out of Fort Smith is expected in fiscal year 2013. The unit employs about 350 full-time personnel, with about 1,000 on the base once a month for training. The annual economic impact of the 188th is $150 million.

Tracy Winchell, communications manager for the city of Fort Smith and member of the 188th Steering Committee of 188th/Fort Chaffee Community Council, said a rough estimate on personnel for an unmanned mission would see the full time job number drop to around 55, with about 300 on the base for monthly training.

“We wouldn’t mind being wrong on that, but that (job losses) is not acceptable,” Winchell explained.

According to a Stars and Stripes report, the total Air Force budget would fall to $154.3 billion from $162.5 billion in 2012. Some of the cuts come from Air Force plans to cull 227 aircraft, or about 4%, from its fleet.

“That included the controversial decision to eliminate about 100 A-10 ground attack aircraft, consistent with the larger DOD move away from planning for counterinsurgency operations,” noted the Stars and Stripes report.

“Well, that’s very much what we expected,” Winchell said when asked about the budget released Monday, adding that such expectations are what is behind a letter-writing campaign.

The Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce sponsored the “Save the Flying Razorbacks” website as part of an effort to gather 1,000 letters that will be packaged and presented to Congressional and military leaders by Arkansas’ Congressional delegation.

Winchell said 573 letters had been submitted as of Monday evening.

“The letters are part of a larger overall objective to make sure we get some answers to questions” as to how the Air Force made the decision to cut the A-10 program, Winchell said.

The conservative Center for Security Policy issued a report Monday indicating that the defense budget cuts will impact all of Arkansas, not just the 188th. According to CSP research, Arkansas businesses during 2010 earned more than $606 million from defense contracts.

Impacts from the defense budget cuts include:
• Arkansas annual business losses could be greater than $55 million if 9% defense budget cuts are approved;
• Arkansas annual business losses could be greater than $109 million if cuts of 18% are required.

“Some Arkansas businesses may have to shut down,” noted the CSP report.

Link here to a Military Times article that provides a more broad look at the proposed defense budget.