WASHINGTON, D.C. — During Tuesday's Armed Services Committee nominations hearing, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker questioned Gen. Paul J. Selva about the Air Force's current plan to transfer 10 C-130J aircraft from Keesler Air Force Base to Little Rock Air Force Base.
Wicker said he's willing to work with the Air Force when it comes to making overall savings, but he questioned whether removing aircraft from an established base like Keesler is the answer.
"It seems to me the reasons have never been fully explained," he said.
Wicker acknowledged that every senator is going to defend their own bases, "but if it's going to help the greater good, count me in to be your teammate here."
Wicker ran through the list of previous proposed destinations for Keesler's C-130Js — including Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia and Pope Air Field in North Carolina — and questioned why Monday's proposal makes any more sense. He also made a point to emphasize that the recent proposals include reactivating the 913th in Little Rock.
"Taxpayers have spent millions of dollars to provide Keesler Air Force Base with state-of-the-art modern hangars and facilities. As a matter of fact, Keesler has enough space to house two squadrons," he said. "Yet, the Air Force continues to propose to spend millions of dollars to move these aircraft away, and I just want you to help us understand at the committee level the reason for this.
"Of course, the move would also cause serious disruptions to the unit's personnel and their families, and that happens everytime there's a move."
Asked how much the proposal will cost, Selva, commander of the air mobility command, said, "it's my understanding that the move itself is cost neutral to Little Rock. The savings are on the order of 600 manpower billets across the Air Force Reserve, specifically as the reserves looked at this decision, which equates to about $100 million across the (future years defense plan, a five-year plan) for savings."
Selva also said that, to his knowledge, no "MILCON," or military construction, will be required to facilitate the proposal.
"I want you to supply me a statement on the record, not to your knowledge, and I want you to be able to look us in the eye on this committee, General, and assure us that not one dollar of MILCON is going to be needed to accomplish this move."
Selva said he would look into the specifics pertaining to the costs of the move.
Wicker doubled-back during the five-minute question-and-answer session and again asked Selva whether the move would "save enough money to offset the cost of making this move."
Selva reiterated his previous statement, saying it's his understanding that "it's the reasonable thing to do" because of the potential FYDP savings.
Little Rock Air Force Base is currently scheduled to lose 12 C-130Hs by the end of 2015.
The base currently houses seven legacy C-130 H-model aircraft.
In conjunction with the proposal, Little Rock's 22nd Air Force, Detachment 1 will convert to the 913th Airlift Wing. The reserve unit currently contains about 430 personnel, according to Master Sgt. Chris Durney, but is approved to expand to 600 by the end of the year.
Lt. Mallory Thornton, chief public affairs officer for the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock, said between 20 and 25 percent of the Air Force's fleet of C-130s, or about 80, are currently housed at the base.
She said the base takes pride in being "the home of the combat airlift."
"(Often), if you train on the C-130s, you come here," she said.
The most recent proposals would also cut Keesler's Reserve 403rd Civil Engineer Squadron and the 815th Squadron of the 403rd Wing. Combined, those cuts would impact 192 positions. The 110 airmen in the 345th Airlift Squadron, the active component associated with the 815, would be transferred to other Air Force units.