Maryland Col. Scott L. Kelly does not expect the state to get unmanned aircraft, given FAA rules and the busy airspace in the National Capital Region.
"I can't predict what's going to transpire budget-wise in aircraft building," he said, "but we may have perhaps seen our last manned fighter already built" — the state-of-the-art Joint Strike Fighter.
"I'm telling our troops that I see the [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance group] and network warfare expansion as, at least in my eyes, something that's going to keep this wing and this air guard viable for many years in the future," Kelly said.
For now, Kelly said, his greatest concern is "the people side of the equation" — the 250 members of the 135th Airlift Group and the personnel who support them. "They all have faces and lives and families."
Kelly said some of the guard members have computer and other skills from their civilian lives that could help them adapt to new opportunities with the ISR group or the network warfare squadron.
Others, including pilots who want to continue to fly, could seek opportunities elsewhere in the guard, in Maryland or beyond.
Lt. Col. David DeBorger, a pilot and instructor, sees a potential new role for himself in the new intelligence and cyberwarfare missions.
"I always thought I'd be flying airplanes, but at my point in my career, I had to figure out what I'm going to do next," he said. "So for an old guy like me" — he's 45 — "this may be a great opportunity to transition to another career that's going to be easier for me to have a follow-on after I get out of the Air National Guard."
Lt. Col. Julie Curlin, a pilot who commutes from Tampa, Fla., to command the 135th Maintenance Squadron of the 135th Airlift Group, held out hope the decision wasn't final.
One of the last of the Maryland pilots to train on the C27J, she was getting checked out on the new aircraft at Warfield last week.
"We're still fighting to keep them, so that's obviously what we're looking forward to, is this aircraft staying here in some kind of role," she said. "We would be really sad to see this go."