Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Castration of the USAF: Part Trey - the ANG

The Air National Guard are units that belong to each state, giving the states their own individual military air assets. The main purposes of the ANG is to supplement the regular USAF as needed, and to provide emergency assistance within their own states during times of disaster.

In the 40's, 50's, 60s, and '70s, the Air Guard were very much considered weekend warriors. Using hand me down aircraft and equipment from the regular USAF, the units were rarely called upon to support their active duty counterparts. Most times ANG units were called up for active duty service, they went to stateside bases to backfill for active duty units deployed overseas.

In the '80s, a change started to occur, where the ANG was more closely integrated with active duty forces. Their equipment was upgraded, and though in many cases not the same capability as the active duty units, it was getting much closer. ANG units made more and more overseas deployments, to train in real world situations. These efforts were about to pay off.

The first Gulf War saw the first large scale use of ANG units on the frontline of combat operations. Transport, aerial refueling, and combat units were counted on heavily during the buildup, war, and aftermath.

Throughout the '90s, ANG units became critical components of frontline operations. With the military drawdown imposed by Clinton in 1994 and 1995, active duty units simply weren't enough to cover the commitments. Post 9/11 this became even more critical. OIF and OEF operations simply could not have been sustained for as long as they have been if it hadn't been for ANG units.

Now, for the bad part....

During the '90s and '00s, the ANG was upgrading its aircraft, to where it was flying almost the same stuff as active duty units. Fighter aircraft in particular were pretty much equivalent both in capability and age. However, very few new aircraft were being purchased for ANG use, and very few new ones were being bought for active duty use. Hence, aircraft in both sides of the service were being used up, to the point of having to be retired, and not being replaced. There are no more aircraft for the USAF to hand down to the ANG.

The ANG's limited fighter resources (and pretty much everything else) are running out of service life, and are going to end up retired to the Tucson desert long before they can be replaced. There are already units shutting down because they don't have aircraft to fly.

The USAF's efforts to buy new aircraft have not included any efforts for the ANG. Even though the active duty folks count on the Guard, they aren't helping them out at all with aircraft procurement. With a shortage of dollars to spend on the military these days, the ANG is being forgotten.

The ANG is fighting this, and actually, for the first time in its history, trying to procure aircraft on its own. They are talking about purchasing new build F-16s, F-15s, and even F-18s, to meet its own needs and to cover its active duty commitments. Whiel the Pentagon is hung up ont he F-35 being the answer to all its aircraft questions, there will not be any F-35s made available for the ANG for at least a decade. The ANG needs aircraft now, and they are smart in trying to pursue new build aircraft that are cheaper, and proven in design and capability.

Title photo - 111th Fighter Squadron, 147th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, based at Ellington ANGB in Houston, painted up this F-16C, s/n 84-1393, to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the base. Photographed the day before it was retired in June of 2008 by yours truly. The unit's F-16s ran out of service time, and were all retired to the desert. With no replacement aircraft available, the unit converted to drone operations - now its remaining pilots spend their time in trailers 'flying' drones located halfway around the world. This unit, with a long, proud history of service used to fly F-16s, F-4s, F-101s, F-102s, F-86s, P-51s ... all the way back to Jennys .....

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