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AF, Air Guard ready for face off

The Air National Guard has fired the first salvo in what is sure to be a protracted battle with Air Force leadership over service budget cuts.

Air National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt parsed his words on Tuesday when he questioned Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz's definition of "balance," but his message was clear: You hung us out to dry.

"Chief said we are going to do this in a ‘balanced' fashion. It will be interesting to see on the 13th of this month the practical implications of what ‘balanced' means," Wyatt told a crowd of Reserve and Guard officers at the Reserve Officer Association's National Security Symposium in Washington D.C.

I wrote a longer article on Wyatt's frustration for the main site here, but there are further issues the Air Force will face.

First, the battle the Air Force has brought upon itself with Congress. Just because the Defense Department has rolled out what it wants to cut from the president's budget doesn't mean that's what will be cut. Congress has already pushed back against Panetta's request for two rounds of base closures.

Each service will need as many allies in Congress it can muster. Targeting the Guard, which has quite a few champions on Capitol Hill, could hurt the Air Force's ability to get what it wants in the defense budget, defense analysts said.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Adm. James Winnefeld said the Air Force will retire four Guard squadrons out of the seven the service requested. The Air Force also canceled the C-27 program, which would have had a number of aircraft sent to Guard units.

Once the Air Force officially announces which squadrons it will retire, its leaders can be sure to expect a call from the members of Congress whose represent them. The Air Force brass will also have to explain to the senators of each state why the Guard will lose four squadrons and the active duty will only lose two. The Reserves will lose the last squadron.

The Air Force lost credibility on the Hill during the bungled tanker contract, not to mention the wounds it suffered when it lost track of six nuclear warheads in 2007. Air Force leaders will need protection from Congress in this budget battle. Making enemies with the Guard lobby will only hurt those efforts.

Don't be surprised if representatives from Indiana, Michigan, Arkansas and Iowa - the states that many expect to lose Guard fighter squadrons - have some pointed critiques for Air Force leaders in the upcoming parade of defense budget hearings.


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