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552 ACW commander discusses wing's future

An E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft prepares to launch in support of Amalgam Dart 2009 June 20 at McChord Air Force Base, Wash. Amalgam Dart is a field test of the Department of Defense's ability to rapidly deploy a total air integrated defense system in the United States in order to deter, detect and defeat airborne threats. The E-3 is from the 965th Airborne Air Control Squadron at Tinker AFB, Okla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey)

An E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft prepares to launch in support of Amalgam Dart 2009 June 20 at McChord Air Force Base, Wash. Amalgam Dart is a field test of the Department of Defense's ability to rapidly deploy a total air integrated defense system in the United States in order to deter, detect and defeat airborne threats. The E-3 is from the 965th Airborne Air Control Squadron at Tinker AFB, Okla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The 4,600-member 552nd Air Control Wing would lose seven E-3 Sentry aircraft under the Air Force's proposed FY 2015 budget -- a move that would also reduce the overall size of the wing, said 552nd ACW Commander Col. Jay R. Bickley.

The colonel spoke with his Airmen in several All-Calls this week about the budget outlook. The proposal is only the first step in a months-long budget process toward the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. It will be up to Congress to approve final plans and make any changes.

At the Tinker Auditorium on Tuesday, Colonel Bickley said top Air Force commanders are balancing the challenges of tighter funding with the need to keep readiness and technology the best in the world.

The current proposal would involve a mix of impacts for the 552nd ACW, he said. The loss of planes is one, but Air Force leaders have proposed fully funding the Airborne Warning and Control Systems' Block 40/45 upgrade, the largest modification in U.S. AWACS history. Given the Air Force's budget limits, cuts are being made in some areas to retain money for high-priority items such as technology and capability upgrades.

"Committing funds to our 40/45 modification is good news. It will enable us to better meet the threats of the future, and make sure we have a weapon system that's viable and relevant in the combat arena of what we think the future will hold," Colonel Bickley said.

Standing down seven planes would reduce the number of AWACS aircraft at Tinker to 20.
Personnel billet reductions would accompany the decrease in aircraft, Colonel Bickley said. "the total number hasn't been determined yet."

Budget proposals also call for deactivating the 513th Air Control Group, an AWACS reserve associate unit of 345 Airmen. The recommendation is to add four more KC-135R tankers to the 507th Air Refueling Wing, bringing it to 12 aircraft, he said.

He urged Airmen to talk to their supervisors about the impacts of the proposals. "Give us an opportunity to answer the questions for you," Colonel Bickley said.

"When the final determination is made, we'll do as we always do," Colonel Bickley said. "we'll sit down and figure out the maximum amount of capability we can get with the assets that we have ... That's what professional military members do, and we will do that and we will continue to provide world-class command, control, and battle management to combatant commanders world-wide."