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Air Force Details Plans for ISR Group, C-27 Divestment

BALTIMORE -- New details have emerged regarding how the fiscal year 2013 Air Force budget proposal might affect the Maryland Air National Guard.

The budget proposal, portions of which were released in January, calls for the elimination of the C-27J Spartan from the Air Force inventory. The C-27 is currently operated by the Maryland Air National Guard's 135th Airlift Group.

Guard officials have voiced concern over the loss of the platform, which would leave Maryland without an airlift capability in the event of a state emergency. Army officials have previously stated that the C-27 is crucial to supporting ground forces in Afghanistan and that current support using a combination of larger C-130 cargo planes and CH-47 helicopters has been inadequate. The Air Force took over the C-27J program in 2009.

"I'm definitely concerned about it. There's no question that the C-27J is a valuable capability," said Brig. Gen. Allyson Solomon, Assistant Adjutant General-Air of Maryland. "The question is whether keeping it is possible in the current fiscal reality."

According to Solomon, the Guard is "looking at all options" with regard to the 2013 budget. But she added that it is still early in the process, and Congress has yet to act on the budget proposal.

But the news for the Maryland ANG isn't all bad. As the Air Force beefs up its cyber intelligence capabilities, the state is looking at possibly gaining an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance group. The ISR group would "support intelligence operations in the cyberspace domain," according to the budget proposal. The group would include two intelligence squadrons and an intelligence support squadron.

According to budget documents released Feb. 13, the Air Force is seeking more than $1.8 million to establish the unit. The proposed budget would also increase manpower funding by $5.9 million to pay for 74 fulltime-equivalent positions in the ISR group. Additional details regarding the manning and organization of the ISR group have not yet been released.

The Air Force is also requesting nearly $2.3 million to fund the 175th Network Warfare Squadron, up from approximately $1.7 million in 2012. The additional funds would be used to support the squadron's Cyber Hunter Team mission, which provides a "mobile, precision capability to identify, pursue and mitigate" cyber threats and a "real-time capability to detect, analyze and mitigate" attempts to steal Air Force data. The squadron would gain 10 fulltime positions as a result.

The bottom line, according to Solomon, is that until Congress acts, nothing is set in stone. She emphasized that members should have confidence that their leaders are taking an active stance with regard to addressing the budget proposal.

"We're preparing for the worst, while hoping for the best and working to address our members' needs," she said. "We've formed a tiger team to examine the issue and come up with an appropriate plan, we're listening to our members and we will do our best to come up with a solution that addresses their concerns while working within the constraints of whatever budget Congress ultimately enacts."