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Weekly Column: Idaho's Air National Guard Squadron Must Be Preserved

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Preserving Air National Guard (ANG) fighter units—importantly, the Idaho National Guard’s 190th Fighter Squadron—is a priority as the United States continues to face external threats from adversaries like Russia, China and Iran.  These highly-trained, experienced and prepared forces are a key piece of our country’s defense.  I am working closely with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to preserve ANG units’ critical role in our national security, and the USAF’s recent announcement that the 124th Fighter Wing would receive an F-16 Fighting Falcon mission at Gowen Field beginning in 2027 was a welcome development in this effort. 

I partnered with fellow Senators representing states home to other ANG fighter squadrons, including fellow U.S. Senator for Idaho Jim Risch, in introducing the Fighter Force Preservation and Recapitalization Act.  This legislation would prevent the closure of ANG fighter squadrons at a time when pilot and maintenance manning are at critically low levels.  The ANG represents 33 percent of the Air Force combat fighter force and is responsible for 94 percent of homeland defense missions.  On average, the pilots and maintainers in the ANG are twice as experienced as their active duty counterparts.  Unfortunately, since 1987, the Air Force fighter fleet has been reduced by 60 percent.  The Air Force is moving to divest many of the ANG legacy equipment, including A-10s and older F-16s, without a plan to recapitalize them with advanced aircraft. 

The Fighter Force Preservation and Recapitalization Act will ensure the Air Force maintains 25 ANG fighter squadrons across 22 states, including Idaho, ready to protect Americans at home and abroad.  The legislation would also require the Secretary of the Air Force, in consultation with the Director of the ANG, to develop a fighter aircraft recapitalization plan within four months of enactment of the legislation. 

Additionally, in December, I co-led a bipartisan, bicameral letter with a total of 51 Members of Congress, including Senator Risch and Representatives Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher, to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall urging the Air Force to consider using fleet leveling as a stopgap measure to ensure there is no loss of Total Force fighter capability or combat capacity.  Fleet leveling would temporarily redistribute fighters across the Total Force to prevent the near-term closure of ANG squadrons while fighter procurement catches up.  It is a short-term solution to keep fighter squadrons open across the country to preserve readiness and maintain strong national security.  Fleet leveling is the best interim solution to preserve readiness across the country.  We wrote:

“pilot and maintenance manning across the Air Force are both at alarmingly low levels. It takes more than a decade to produce an experienced fighter pilot.  Unlike the active component, closing an ANG and AFRC [Air Force Reserve Command] fighter squadron results in the permanent loss of hundreds of deeply experienced personnel.  That experience, and the millions of taxpayer dollars invested to train them, are lost forever.  This loss also generates additional costs and training requirements to replace that experience.  Fleet leveling the fighter force will ensure that the experience resident in ANG and AFRC fighter squadrons remains accessible for our Nation’s defense in this decisive decade.”

With Gowen Field being home to the Idaho Air National Guard and the 124th Fighter Wing, 190th Fighter Squadron, Idaho Citizen Airmen have a significant presence around our great State.  They have also been deployed all over the world.  We are blessed to have them in our communities.  As they continue to keep our skies safe and provide steady reminders of strong commitment, strength, honor and professionalism, I will continue to work to back their effectiveness with a strong fighter force structure that reinforces our country’s ability to meet threats at home and abroad. 

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