Defense bill addresses Ohio Air Guard bases

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COLUMBUS (AP) -- Congress could vote this week on a federal defense-spending bill that preserves a fleet of aircraft at an Air National Guard base in Mansfield and provides funding for a tank plant in Lima and other defense-related operations in Ohio.

House and Senate negotiators arrived at a final version of the proposed National Defense Authorization Act on Tuesday.

The bill calls for the U.S. Air Force to keep cargo aircraft in its inventory to fulfill the airlift mission performed by units, such as the 179th Airlift Wing in Mansfield in northern Ohio.

The bill also provides funding for tank upgrades at northwest Ohio's Lima plant and provisions affecting Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in southwest Ohio, including funding for the Air Force Institute of Technology.

In addition, the bill includes $150 million to pay for research and development for a proposed uranium-enrichment plant in Piketon in southern Ohio.

But negotiators stripped language from the final version that would freeze any proposed reduction in KC-135 aircraft at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Columbus, meaning the Air Force has the option of reducing that fleet, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

The bill is partly a response to proposed cuts to the Air Guard and Air Force Reserve called for by President Barack Obama last year. The cuts would have affected more than 60 installations in 33 states and were aimed at saving $8.7 billion by retiring 200 planes and cutting 10,000 air-crew members. Obama's plans called for cutting six aircraft from the 18 at Rickenbacker.

"This is something the conference committee chose to give the Air Force more latitude on," U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told the newspaper, adding that he is concerned about the joint House-Senate panel's decision.

The bill also would establish a national commission to review the long-term structure of the Air Force. The commission would be made up of four people appointed by the president and four by the congressional armed services committees and would issue a report by February 2014.

Language in the bill also calls for the Air Force to retain 32 additional cargo aircraft in its inventory -- either the C-130 or the C-27J. The Mansfield base has four C-27Js and about 800 Ohio National Guard positions, including about 200 full-time workers.

Portman said the unit would retain its cargo mission through the end of the fiscal year in October, the Mansfield News Journal reported.

"There will be some flexibility with the Air Force to use either the C-27J or the C-130s," Portman told the newspaper. "But there's an assurance that the Mansfield-based 179th will continue to have this mission."

Portman and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said they have fought to ensure funding for future M1A2 Abrams-tank upgrades.

That work is done at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, which has faced numerous threats to its federal funding in recent years.

The final bill calls for funding Abrams upgrades through 2014, providing $136 million.

Turner, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday that funding for the Air Force institute in Dayton will promote and expand educational opportunities there. He said the bill bolsters cooperation between government agencies in the development of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).

"This will be key to Ohio, as we are competing for a UAS test range," he said.

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