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Helmut Schmidt, Published March 06 2012

Fargo-based ND Air National Guard unit won’t see cuts, but mission will change

FARGO – There’s bad and good news in the Air Force’s proposed fiscal 2013 budget for the North Dakota Air National Guard.

The bad news: The Fargo-based 119th Wing won’t have a manned aircraft mission in the new plan.

They will not get C-27J Spartan cargo aircraft that had once been hoped for, and the current C-21 Learjet mission will also go away sometime in the next year, Guard officials said Tuesday.

The good news: North Dakota is one of just three states that won’t see a cutback in Air Guard jobs under the proposal, which calls for 5,500 positions to be cut nationwide.

The Happy Hooligans would continue to operate Predator drones under the proposed budget.

Plans are to add an “intelligence group” mission, though the composition of that unit is still unknown, said Maj. Gen. Dave Sprynczynatyk, the state adjutant general.

The important thing is the number of personnel assigned to the wing, about 1,082, will stay the same or may even grow, he said.

Even with a mission change, “we’re going to make sure we take care of all of the people that we have within the Air National Guard in North Dakota now and find them a new home, a new job skill,” Sprynczynatyk said.

“Throughout all this, we’re going to continue to aggressively pursue a manned flying mission, because it’s critical to our operations at Fargo,” he said.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple acknowledged that the Defense Department has tough choices to make in restructuring the military, but he agrees the Air Guard is a critical component of the nation’s defense and a manned mission is needed in the state.

The state’s congressional delegation also opposes cuts to the state Guard’s manned flying mission.

The cuts come as a result of Department of Defense efforts to trim at least $487 billion in defense spending during the next decade.

Following the Base Realignment and Closure commission report in 2005, the 119th Wing retired its F-16 fighter jets in 2007.

The 119th now flies the MQ-1 Predator, a remotely piloted aircraft, along with the C-21 Learjet, which was intended to be a “bridge mission” to keep the unit flying and skilled in aircraft maintenance until the C-27J arrived.

Defense Department proposals indicate the entire C-27J program will be cut. The 119th was originally to get four of the aircraft, with planes going to six other states, too.

The C-27J was originally sought as a support aircraft for Army units, and later became a joint project between the Army and Air Force. However, after buying 21 aircraft and even having a few of them in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Air Force decided to back away from the program. The Army is still interested in the aircraft, Sprynczynatyk said.

In Grand Forks, the Defense Department proposal calls for manpower at the base to stay the same next year, Sprynczynatyk said.

The base now has an unmanned aerial vehicle mission.

State officials hope to bring a tanker mission back to Grand Forks to replace the KC-135 Stratotankers that were moved out in 2010.

There is no mention yet where new KC-46 tanker aircraft will go.

Sprynczynatyk said that a base planning process starting this spring and lasting 18 months will determine where the midair refueling aircraft are stationed.

The first KC-46s are due to be delivered to the Air Force in 2017, he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583