General: Air National Guard needs new fighter jets

The director of the Air National Guard said Wednesday that the Air Force needs to modernize its entire force -- active, Guard and Reserve -- "concurrently and proportionately," citing an urgent need to replace the aging F-15s and F-16s now used to secure U.S. airspace.

The Air National Guard's needs are "a little more acute, a little more immediate, because our airplanes are a little bit older," and there is no plan "to address the early age-out of our airplanes," Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt said at a breakfast with defense writers.

Eighty percent of the F-16s used for air sovereignty missions will begin to "age out" in eight years, but the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters will not arrive until the mid-2020s, "several years too late," Wyatt said.

Noting that the ANG provides "34 percent of Air Force's capabilities, at 7 percent of the budget," Wyatt pushed for assigning 60 to 70 of the 187 F-22s now on order to the Guard.

There are no F-22s in the Guard now, although Air Guard personnel fly and maintain F-22s with an active Air Force fighter wing at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. There are also plans to establish an Air Guard unit in Hawaii, Wyatt said. The Guard provides 16 of the 18 air defense locations in the country.

"That doesn't mean there aren't other airplanes out there that could provide that capability, the F-15, the F-16, the F-18," Wyatt said. Although interested in the capabilities needed to perform his mission, the general said he is "platform agnostic."

The Air Force currently has no plans to buy more F-15s and F-16s, but Wyatt said that could change if the F-35 falls behind schedule.

He also stood by his recent letter advocating F-22s for his command's mission to protect the nation, but insisted that he never called for buying more than the 187 F-22s requested by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Air Force leadership.

Wyatt said his response to a letter from Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., focused on the urgent need to replace the Guard's aging fleet. The general said he gave "very specific answers" to "very specific questions" from Chambliss, who was fighting to include authority in the fiscal 2010 defense authorization to buy more F-22s, which are assembled in his state.

Wyatt said, for example, that Chambliss asked if the F-22 can provide the capabilities he needed for the air sovereignty mission, and "the answer basically was 'yes.' But I also pointed out in the letter that there were other aircraft that also could provide that capability."

Most of the senior Air Force leaders who had read both letters "did not have a problem with it," Wyatt said, and he had received "no feedback" from Gates.

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