July 9, 2009 (by Bjørnar Bolsøy) - The Air National Guard is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the battle over whether to terminate or keep building the 5th generation F-22 fighter.
USAF F-22A block 30 no. 07-4145 is seen overhead runway 29 at Dobbins ARB on June 19, 2009. [Photo by Agustin Anaya]
In a June 19 letter to Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Air National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt advocates the purchase of F-22 fighters to secure the Guard's homeland defense mission in the future. According to Wyatt the ANG
is facing a serious risk of becoming unable to fulfill the Nations highest strategic priority: defending the Homeland.
Wyatts concern is well founded. Within about eight years 80 percent of the ANG's F-16 inventory, which carries out the bulk of the Nations Air Sovereignty Alert (ASA) operations, will reach the end of their planned operational life span.
In his April testimony to the House Armed Services’ readiness committee, Wyatts noted that if Air Guard units received 5th generation fighters, such as the F-22 and F-35 sooner, the readiness issues could be avoided. "Every day without a solution, this situation becomes more and more urgent," Wyatt told the committee.
The Air Guard operates 16 of the 18 ASA sites located across the United States to protect its airspace. While the average age of Guard' aircraft is over 25 years, the KC-135 aerial refueling tanker aircraft are the oldest at 49 years. The KC-135s also support the ASA mission through aerial refueling. In total, excluding tanker support, more than 3,000 Airmen are responsible for the Air Sovereignty Alert mission.
In the June letter to Senator Chambliss, Wyatt remains optimistic in the US's ability to recapitalize the ANG, but notes "I am not aware of any plan that commits to doing so". "As such, we are in need of an immediate solution in order to ensure that America's most cost effective force can continue to perform its most important mission".
Wyatt continues, advocating the capabilities of Lockheed Martins F-22 fighter: "While a variety of solutions abound, I believe the current and future asymmetric threats to our nation, particularly from seaborne cruise missiles, requires a fighter platform with the requisite speed and detection to address them." "The F-22's unique capability in this arena enables it to handle a full spectrum of threats that the ANG's current legacy systems are not capable of addressing", Wyatt said emphasizing its 5th generation capacity.
“I am fond of saying that America's most important job should be handled by Americas best fighter".
The Armed Services panel’s report accompanying its recent defense authorization bill quotes Wyatts letter as a justification for the committee’s recommendation to keep the F-22 production line open. The report suggests that the looming shortfall of F-15 and F-16 fighter jets to execute the Air Guard's ASA alerts is a primary reason for authorizing the additional F-22s.
Wyatts letter concludes: "Many say this will mean making though choices, but I believe we can maintain our vitality by making smart choices; leveraging the cost effective and daily use of the ANG is the answer. Basing F-22s (and eventually F-35s) at strategic locations while simultaneously making them available to rotationally support worldwide contingency operations is the most responsible approach to satisfying all of our Nation's needs".