The new defense authorization will give the Air Force enough flexibility to make what the head of the Air National Guard calls the most important update to his mobility fleet.
The Guard's C-130 fleet is in need of avionics that will meet new standards required by the Federal Aviation Administration and the International Civil Aviation Organization, and that, if not met, would force the fleet to be grounded in Europe by 2017 and in the U.S. by 2020. The upgrade is was needed to meet air traffic control standards to communicate with civilian towers and other civilian aircraft.
The C-130s are in the middle of a long-standing avionics modernization program but upgrades under that program do not meet that would have still put the upgrades behind the timeline for the FAA and ICAO. To counter this, the Air Force sought to cancel the program, but Congress was insistent on keeping it. The newly approved fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act keeps the AMP program moving, but lets the Air Force adjust it as long as the Defense Department certifies that a change is needed to keep the C-130s flying.
"We need to figure out a way … to be compliant," Lt. Gen. Stanley Clarke, the director of the Air National Guard, said Friday today at an Air Force Association event in Arlington, Virginia. "If they are not compliant, they could be grounded when they shouldn't be."
Clarke said his C-130 fleet has a long list of near-term needs for upgrades needed in the near future, but under the current budget pressures it is important that they "get the minimum modernization to be compliant."
"There are many things we can do to these airplanes, but in the priority order, that's first," Clarke said.
The proposed cancellation led to lengthy back-and-forth during the cCongressional budget negotiations process. The Air Force had wanted the program it canceled because it does not meet the necessary requirements, but cCongressional supporters of the program kept it in the budget at every step of the way.
In July, the Adjutants General Association of the United States sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers them to cancel the current program and support an alternative.
"A fully funded AMP program, even if immediately restarted today with zero programmatic delays, would modernize only a small fraction of the C-130H fleet by 2020. This is unacceptable," the letter reads. "The prudent path instead is to allow for a cost-effective 'alternative solution' that can be quickly accomplished while preserving a realistic fiscal path to C-130J recapitalization."
While the issue is pressing to the Guard C-130 fleet, it will need to be addressed Air Force-wide, Clarke said.