Proposed defense budget would retire two Army airframes
Fort Rucker was specifically mentioned during a speech from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel regarding the 2015 budget plan that will be presented to Congress next week.
The budget focuses on a reduction of troops, increasing modernization and a realignment of aircraft that will involve the retirement of two airframes at Fort Rucker, the OH-58 Kiowa and the UH-67 JetRanger.
As the United States closes the book on a 13-year war, Hagel said it must now focus on molding a smaller, more capable military.
"The reality of reduced resources and a changing strategic environment requires us to prioritize and make some difficult choices," Hagel said.
A year ago, the military and other agencies across the government endured abrupt automatic spending cuts of $37 billion, which was on top of the $487 billion, 10-year defense spending reductions required by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Two months ago, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act, which provided the Department of Defense with some relief. However, Hagel said spending remains significantly below what President Barack Obama requested in his 2014 budget request and five-year budget plan.
"The president will soon submit a budget request that adheres to Bipartisan Budget Act spending limits," Hagel said. "But it is clear that under these limits the military will still face significant readiness and modernization challenges next year."
To overcome the shortfall to some degree, the budget will include an Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative, which will provide an additional $26 billion for the Department of Defense in 2015.
Today, the Army has about 520,000 active-duty soldiers, which will be reduced to between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers.
However, if sequestration-level cuts are re-imposed in 2016, Hagel said those numbers could go down to 420,000 soldiers.
Along with other cuts and aircraft realignment with the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, the Department of Defense is recommending that Army Guard Apache attack helicopters be transferred to active duty units.
The active Army will in turn transfer some of the Blackhawk helicopters to the Guard, where they can better help in areas like disaster relief and emergency response.
"The changes to the Guard's helicopter fleet are part of a broader realignment of Army aviation designed to modernize its fleet and make it highly capable and more affordable," Hagel said. "The force will retire its Kiowas, and the 'JetRanger' training helicopters used at Fort Rucker. The active Army's overall fleet would decrease by about 25 percent, but it would be significantly modernized under the president's budget plan."
The Apaches received from the Guard would be used to fulfill the mission of the OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter, and the JetRanger, or TH-67, would eventually be replaced by UH-72 Lakotas, received mostly from the National Guard.
U.S. Rep. Martha Roby said the changes were expected, but it's important how the changes are implemented.
"With the drawdown of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, along with our current budget limitations, changes to our military are no doubt necessary," Roby said. "I have been personally engaged in discussions surrounding the Army's planned changes. As it stands, the plan would have a positive impact on Fort Rucker and the critical training mission at the Army Aviation Center of Excellence."
Roby added that the budget reductions would have been much worse if Congress had not passed the Bipartisan Budget Act in December that restored some of the funding cut by sequestration.
"Much of what Secretary Hagel released was expected, and I look forward to reviewing President Obama's full budget request when it is released next month."
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