WASHINGTON — The massive repair depot at Tinker Air Force Base will gain a new leadership role, but lose a relatively small amount of positions, as part of an Air Force plan to streamline operations and reduce its workforce.
Members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation said Wednesday that the move would elevate the status of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center and make it even more attractive to private contractors since it will now host one of the “lead” centers under the Air Force command that oversees repair depots.
“There's no question that Tinker and Oklahoma emerged as major winners,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, whose district includes Tinker.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, also hailed the decision, saying Tinker has the “capacity, the talent and the size” to host the new Sustainment Center, but he questioned whether the streamlined structure of the Air Force Materiel Command would be a more efficient one.
According to figures provided to Oklahoma lawmakers, an estimated 119 positions will be eliminated at Tinker over the next year, though some of those positions are currently vacant; the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center currently employs about 16,000 civilian and military personnel.
Overall, the Air Force Materiel Command — which has the largest civilian workforce in the Air Force — is expected to shed about 1,000 positions.
Another 130 position losses are expected to be borne by Altus Air Force Base and Vance Air Force Base, as the Air Force seeks to reduce its civilian workforce.
Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said Wednesday, “We are making difficult choices about how to deliberately restructure and posture the force and will continue to look for new ways of accomplishing the mission. We can't afford business as usual.”
Tinker to get three-star general
The Air Force has three air logistics centers. They are large and very complex repair depots that work on aircraft, missiles and other weapons systems.
Besides the one at Tinker, which specializes in aircraft engine repair and is the largest of the three, there are logistics centers at Hill Air Force Base in Utah and at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.
Under the restructuring, the three logistics centers will become Air Logistics Complexes headed by brigadier — one-star — generals, instead of the major — two-star — generals that currently lead the centers.
The Air Force Materiel Command also will consolidate about a dozen operations with their own leadership structures into five lead centers headed by lieutenant — three-star — generals.
Tinker will get one of those three-star generals at the new sustainment center, and the three one-star generals at the air logistics complexes will report to that commander.
The Oklahoma City center currently is commanded by Maj. Gen. David Gillett, a two-star general set to retire at the end of this year.
Inhofe said Tinker now will be “at the heart of the Air Force's drive to increase efficiency and cost effectiveness while focusing on the number one goal — supporting the war fighter.”
But Inhofe said issues and questions that are currently handled at Tinker's depot might now need approval from one of the new centers, located at a base in Ohio.
The key measurement of the depots, Inhofe said, “is how fast they can get aircraft and engines out the door.” The new structure could jeopardize that “and is unacceptable,” Inhofe said.
Lawmakers from Utah and Georgia, where the other Air Force depots are located, voiced similar concerns on Wednesday about the new structure, and the Utah lawmakers sent a letter to Donley, the Air Force secretary, criticizing him for deciding “in secret” where the new three-star centers would be located.
Cole said Tinker “has emerged from this process stronger than many other facilities and has great potential to gain additional new missions and jobs in the future … The assignment of a sustainment center and three-star general highlights Tinker's pre-eminent role among air logistics facilities.”
Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said Wednesday, “Tinker has routinely demonstrated its ability to provide quality results to the war fighter in a timely manner, and I am pleased the Air Force agrees. Increasing leadership at the base is a testament to their successful ability to complete the mission at hand.”
Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said, “It is clear that our community's proactive support of the base, particularly with regard to improving and expanding the infrastructure in and around the base, such as the Tinker Aerospace Complex (former GM facility) is vitally important.”