Robins cuts could be fewer, although FY13 buget will impact aircraft work
by Gene Rector
Maj. Gen. Bob McMahon said Tuesday that civilian cuts at Robins Air Force Base likely would be fewer than last announced, but the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center commander did not rule out additional reductions, particularly in the center’s massive maintenance wing, as the fiscal year 2013 budget unfolds.

McMahon told local media that the current target is 817, a reduction from the “up to” 992 issued earlier this month. The cuts fall into two categories -- 452 driven by an Air Force-wide push to trim some 16,500 civilian workers and a Robins-directed reduction of 365 in the 402nd Maintenance Wing. The latter, McMahon indicated, is to rescope and right-size the wing to match current and anticipated workload.

The plan, the general stressed, is to accomplish the cuts through individual retirement and separation incentives of up to $25,000.

As of Monday, 346 non-maintenance wing workers have accepted buyouts, including 238 who retired or separated last December. McMahon expects another 71 to accept the incentive and retire by April 30.

“That will get me to 417 of the 452 I need,” the general pointed out. “We’ll wait and see what guidance we get from Air Force, but I am cautiously optimistic that we will have to take no mandatory actions.”

He believes the additional 35 cuts can be managed without forced layoffs.

“There are opportunities to move people into other funding streams that will further reduce the delta,” McMahon said.

The scaled down reductions in the 402nd comes after a detailed analysis of needed skills and experience compared to those who asked to be considered for the buyout. That analysis, McMahon said, dropped the target number to 365 from the “up to” number of 540 briefed to media some two weeks ago.

“We’ve had 253 acceptances so far against that 365 number,” the commander noted. “Again, I am optimistic that we will have to take no mandatory actions to close that gap. Right now, we believe we can get to 365 through voluntary means.” The maintenance wing retirement or separation date also will be April 30.

McMahon said the first-category, base-wide reductions are tied to budgetary expectations for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, including 193 positions that will be lost due to a major Air Force Materiel Command reorganization. AFMC is the parent agency for Robins.

The Ohio-headquartered command announced plans last November to reduce from 12 to 5 centers by October 1 of this year, including the elimination of air logistics center and aerospace sustainment directorate staffs at Robins and at similar installations in Oklahoma and Utah.

Under the realignment, Robins will lose its two-star, major general command slot and the 402nd -- the 9,000-person, industrial heart of the center -- will become an air logistics complex headed by a one-star, brigadier general.

McMahon chose his words carefully in describing progress toward implementing the AFMC plan. The reorganization has come under fire by at least some members of Congress.

“We are planning aggressively to ensure we are ready to move forward with this, assuming we do,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of planning daily to ensure we can effectively transition from our current structure assuming we are authorized to do so.”

McMahon noted that Air Force is responding on both the authorization and appropriation sides to guidance issued by Congress.

The uncertainty for the maintenance wing focuses on the president’s fiscal year 2013 budget delivered to Congress on Monday. The document includes major reductions in the C-5 and C-130 fleets, elimination of the C-27 and cancellation of the C-130 Avionics Modernization Program.

Robins is the Air Force focal point for worldwide management and depot maintenance for the C-5 and C-130. The local base also is the site for C-27 air crew training and was expected to accomplish at least one-third of the 221 C-130H aircraft programmed for avionics upgrades.

The budgetary initiatives -- if approved by Congress -- could mean additional reductions in the 402nd Maintenance Wing if other work can’t be identified.

“I can’t tell you what that new workload might be, but for the last two months we have been aggressively building a plan,” McMahon reported. “Over the next 60 to 90 days, we will be able to talk about some of the things we’re going to do to replace that workload.”

He said further maintenance wing reductions will be determined by how successful that process is.

“What workload is out there?” he asked. “Perhaps a different type of C-130 work. Perhaps (foreign military sales) work. Additional C-17 work. That is the analysis we’re doing.”

The commander believes some avionics upgrades will be needed for C-130Hs in order to fly in restricted air space, particularly over Europe.

“Could that work be done at Robins? The answer is absolutely,” he said. “How do we position ourselves to cover some of that? Those are the kinds of things we are aggressively attacking today to make sure we have a plan for the future.”

© 2012