Waiting for the Plan

Lawmakers at the May 20 House Armed Services Air and Land Forces panel hearing wanted to know if there is a plan to field sufficient Air National Guard air sovereignty alert (ASA) aircraft to head off the impending shortfall should the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter schedule slip? Michael Sullivan of the Government Accountability Office, testified that the F-35 production “plan is still very aggressive, very little white space, very little room for error.” Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) asserted: “The F-35 and the numbers at the prices that you have discussed today simply will not happen. It won’t. And I suggest for the record that you know it and we know it and the people that sent you over here know it.” Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) noted that despite Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggesting last week that many ANG units may fly MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles, “I won’t believe that our Air Guard units can defend our nation with an aircraft that cannot operate in its own airspace.” Pressed at to when the Air Force would have a plan to cover the ASA issue, Lt. Gen. Raymond Johns, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs, said the service needed to get through the Quadrennial Defense Review, so it would be around November. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) complained that at every hearing it was the same refrain, “We can’t quite get an answer of what’s going to happen with our Air Guard units if the F-35 slips [because] we’ve got a QDR coming up.” Panel chairman Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) declared that a November timeframe “doesn’t do us any good with this [budget] markup that we’re coming into.”