Air base is a step closer to getting new airplanes

Our optimism with regard to the future of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station – as reflected in the headline – may be ill-advised, given the political uncertainties in Washington today.

However, we recall the statements made by President-elect Donald J. Trump about the need to increase military spending with the goal of upgrading weapons systems and other equipment.

Republican Trump, who will be sworn in Jan. 20 as the 45th president, should have the support of the GOP leadership in Congress when he submits his budget for the Pentagon.

Therein lies our positive outlook about the air reserve base and its 910th Airlift Wing. With more money flowing into the Pentagon’s coffers, military installations with specialized missions should benefit.

The 910th has the Department of Defense’s only large area – 5,000 acres or more – fixed-wing aerial spray capability to control disease-carrying insects, pest insects and undesirable vegetation, and to disperse oil spills in large bodies of water.

But that mission is being undermined because of the age of the aircraft assigned to the YARS. The fleet consists of eight C-130H Hercules cargo/troop planes – down from 12 – that were built in 1989-1990.

Because of new flying regulations, the planes need to be electronically updated with an “avoidance warning system” to continue to fly in congested air space, such as the East Coast and Europe.

The Air Force has funded the compliance portion of updating the electronics of the C-130H beginning next year that will allow the planes to meet the new regulations.

However, the desirable solution would be for the Pentagon to replace the aging fleet with the new C-130J cargo planes that are already being built.

We have previously used this space to not only argue for the assignment of the C-130Js to YARS, but to also point out that the base is one of the most efficient and cost-effective military installations in the country. Taxpayers have received a significant return on the millions of dollars invested in the Vienna Township facility.

Economic driver

To be sure, the base is a major economic driver in the Mahoning Valley, generating more than $100 million in activity. The 1,500 military and civilian employees contribute significantly to this region’s financial and social well-being.

That is why we have been unwavering in our support of the base and the upgrading of the fleet.

It is also why we continue to heap praise on Ohio’s two senators, Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown, and the Valley’s two representatives, Democrat Tim Ryan of Howland and Republican Bill Johnson of Marietta, for their laser-like focus on the air reserve base.

That effort has brought the YARS one step closer to securing the new C-130J airplanes.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 contains an amendment crafted by Portman and Brown that is designed to benefit the Mahoning Valley.

The amendment directs the Air Force to report on how it will prioritize upgrades to the new C-130J planes for special-mission units like the 910th at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.

“This is a victory for Youngstown and strengthens our national defense capabilities,” Portman said.

“The men and women of Youngstown Air Reserve Station perform an important and unique mission, and it’s critical that the 910th has the most modern C-130 fleet possible to do their job,” Brown said.

Ryan, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, praised the senators for including the amendment and noted that it dovetails with a provision he inserted in the FY 2017 Defense Appropriations report.

The provision directs the Air Force to prioritize units with the oldest equipment when deciding which specialty missions to upgrade.

Rep. Johnson, a staunch supporter of Trump’s during the election, is well positioned to ensure that the new administration is aware of the importance of the YARS to the nation’s military preparedness.

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