BOISE -- On Monday, there started talk from the Pentagon of scaling back the military to pre-World War II levels, including big potential cuts to programs in Idaho.
With the Iraq war over, the war in Afghanistan nearly over, and tighter budgets, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is proposing cuts to military, from soldiers, to equipment, to benefits. The plan has the blessing of President Barack Obama.
At Gowen Field, there is the potential to lose dozens of aircraft and hundreds of jobs if the plan were to go forward as outlined Monday.
The big reason for a potential impact to Gowen is the plan would include eliminating the A-10 "Warthog" attack jet program. It would save $3.5 billion for the military over five years, but it may cost some local families since all the planes in the Idaho Air National Guard are A-10s.
All 22 of the Idaho Air National Guard's planes are the A-10 Warthogs that could be cut under the Defense Secretary's proposal. 1,000 jobs at Gowen Field are associated with those attack planes.
Colonel Tim Marsano explains the A-10s are older aircraft. In fact, the newest Warthogs at Gowen are more than 30 years old.
"For the A-10s, it's known as a single mission aircraft, whereas what's coming online are known as dual-mission aircraft," Marsano said. "These aircraft [A-10s] are extremely capable for what they do, but they're job is to attack targets on the ground essentially. Other aircraft can do that mission as well as air to air combat, dog fighting if you will. This does not have a very strong capability for that."
In addition to the Air Force A-10s that may be cut at Gowen, another two dozen Army helicopters also, stand to be eliminated including Apaches and Lakotas
There are 22 Apaches and 2 Lakotas at Gowen, with about 400 jobs associated with those helicopters. Those helicopters are often used with search and rescues in Idaho, and Marsano says they'll still be able to go on those types of missions.
"We're still going to have eight black hawk helicopters, very, very valuable for search and rescue operations as well as other emergency operations," Marsano said. Marsano says they could potentially get more Blackhawks.
Reallocations aren't uncommon, says Marsano, but right now it's really just uncertain what will happen. Gowen could lose all Air Force planes and the two dozen Army helicopters, but they could potentially get replacements. Right now, Marsano says it's simply too early to know if Gowen will be impacted, and by how much.
"Pentagon reallocations of assets like what are being discussed today are not uncommon. We haven't experienced one in several years," Marsano said. "We're going to get an order eventually that says 'this is going to happen', whether these A-10s are going to what we call the bone yard for dry storage, or whether they get sent somewhere else. We're not going to know until the order comes, and it just hasn't come. It's too soon for that."
The Guard says no matter what happens, the Idaho Air National Guard will exist in some form in our state to respond to Idaho emergencies or be called to overseas deployment.
"There's always going to be some form of the Idaho National Guard. Just don't know what it looks like as of now," Marsano said.
The hope is if planes and helicopters left, Gowen would get some new program. When the C-130s were taken around five year ago, nothing replaced them at Gowen.
Governor Butch Otter joined other governors in asking President Barack Obama to reexamine the proposed cuts. His letter is below:
"Dear Mr. President,
I join my fellow governors in strongly opposing the potential cuts to the Army National Guard advocated by the U.S. Army’s fiscal 2015 budget request.
For more than a decade, our National Guard has demonstrated it is a cost-effective operational force that is critical to our national security at home and abroad.
As commanders-in-chief, we appreciate the need to reorganize, restructure and modernize the military to meet new threats and economic realities. All sectors of the military need to be involved in meeting the targets set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the realities of having fewer forces engaged abroad. In doing so, however, the Army Guard’s operational capabilities and 350,000 personnel strength level must be preserved. The Army’s proposed cuts suggest a pre-2001 strategic reserve construct.
Governors are extremely proud of the role that the National Guard plays in protecting this nation and its citizens. The modern National Guard is a highly experienced and capable combat force and an essential state partner in responding to domestic disasters and emergencies. A return to a pre-9/11 role squanders the investment and value of the Guard and discredits its accomplishments at home and as an active combat force.
Two years ago we opposed similar efforts to dramatically cut personnel and equipment from the Air National Guard. Congress subsequently chose not to impose the cuts and called for a National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force. That commission recently concluded that the Guard is a cost-effective and invaluable force that should be a critical component of the total force structure. The Commission’s conclusions and the ongoing Army debate strengthen the case for a similar independent review of the Army’s future force structure and active and reserve component mix.
We respectfully request that you reconsider proposed cuts to the Army National Guard and changes to the Guard’s combat aviation capabilities, and that you work with us to fashion solutions that provide a scalable, cost-effective force that best serves the interests of our nation.
As Always – Idaho, “Esto Perpetua”
C.L. “Butch” Otter
Governor of Idaho"