WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) joined Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), along with Reps. John James (R-Mich.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.), in calling on Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall to consider “fleet leveling” to preserve fighter squadrons across the Air National Guard (ANG) and the Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC).
Several ANG squadrons across the country are at risk of losing experienced pilots and maintainers as the Air Force retires or upgrades fighter aircraft, including the squadron at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base (NAS JRB) in New Orleans.
“Absent intervention, the ANG is slated to lose two fighter missions in the next three years or will be forced to continue operating with older models. With that growing sense of urgency in mind, we request that you consider a stopgap measure to ensure there is no loss of Total Force fighter capability or combat capacity: fleet leveling,” the lawmakers wrote.
“Fleet leveling is an efficient interim solution to the challenge facing the Air Force—how to deter China with both the capacity and capability of advanced fighters, given fiscal and production constraints. Fleet leveling temporarily balances fighters across active duty, ANG, and AFRC squadrons to allow time for industry production capacity to catch up with demand. Most importantly, fleet leveling prevents the closure of fighter squadrons across the Total Force, thereby preserving critical capacity that would otherwise be forever lost,” they continued.
In Louisiana, the 159th Fighter Wing at NAS JRB in New Orleans helps ensure air sovereignty as part of America’s homeland defense. The wing participates in major military exercises and overseas deployments. The Wing also remains an economic driver for the state, contributing $134 million to Louisiana’s gross domestic product.
“Our goal is to ensure invaluable fighter experience and capabilities can continue to be leveraged in support of our nation’s defense. We are committed to preserving the critical role that ANG and AFRC fighter squadrons play in our Nation’s defense and ask that you share any considerations or plans related to Total Force fighter recapitalization as they become available,” they concluded.
The lawmakers also asked that Secretary Kendall provide them with the Air Force’s assessment of fleet leveling in addition to any logistical challenges and the help that Congress may be able to provide in finding solutions that preserve crucial squadrons.
The full letter is available here.