Officials at Air Force Special Operations Command say it will become increasingly hard to keep two key aircraft flying: The MC-130H Combat Talon II, used to drop commandos into hostile territory and then retrieve them, and the AC-130U, a hulking gunship that flies low to deliver firepower, are both in need of substantial overhauls.In a word: Yikes.
"We are literally flying the wings off these two airplanes," said Brig. Gen. Brad Heithold, director of the command's plans, programs, requirements and assessments office at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
There are only 20 Combat Talons and 17 AC-130Us. This small fleet is in heavy demand by special operations forces around the globe. In 2001, the AC-130Us flew just over 5,200 hours. The gunships logged more than 9,000 hours in 2007. It's comparable, Heithold said, to putting 70,000 miles on a car in a single year instead of a more normal 12,000 miles.
Time to do some earmarking, if necessary. Yes, I know: The trendy thing is to decry earmarks. But those used to buy more planes for the Air Force are going to be useful. It is also crystal clear that they are needed.
This needs to be an issue.