Malmstrom, 120th Airlift Wing update city on construction projects, operations

Malmstrom Air Force Base is slated to receive two to four MH-139 Grey Wolf helicopters in April 2021.

Col. Jennifer Reeves, commander of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom, told City Commissioners during their Jan. 21 work session that the base would receive the first of the operational helicopters.

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“We are ready for a new bird,” she said.

The MH-139 will replace the aging UH-1N Hueys that have been in use in the missile fields for decades.

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Eventually, the base will receive 11 MH-139s, Reeves said. The base currently has 8 Hueys.

But, facilities are not yet ready to house the new helicopters and associated activities.

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Reeves said there are three active military construction projects on base right now related to the helicopter upgrade.

The tactical response force alert facility, a $17.4 million project, is nearing completion and expected to be finished in May.

“We’re getting really close,” she said.

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Last year, the base broke ground on an $18.7 million missile maintenance dispatch facility. In June 2019, the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a contract to a joint venture between WHH Nisqually and Garco for the project.

The new missile maintenance facility is being built because the functions that would occupy that building are being displaced from their current location in the existing three-bay hangar. That hangar is being renovated to house the new MH-139 helicopters that are coming to replace the current UH-1N Huey fleet.

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The missile maintenance contract was originally slated to be awarded in April, but the time allowed for submission of proposals was extended to June. The contract was awarded in June, which falls within fiscal year 2019. The missile maintenance dispatch facility is 43,500 square feet of new construction.

The 3-bay hangar renovation is a $16 million project included in the current fiscal year budget for the base, Reeves said.

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Part of the funding for the $237 million weapons storage facility project is also included in this year’s budget. Reeves said the facility at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming was already under construction.

She said the same design would be used at Malmstrom with modifications for site specific conditions in Great Falls.

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Reeves said the wing is looking into the use of an intergovernmental support agreement for a possible shared recreational facility as the city looks into options for such a facility through an upcoming feasibility study.

Reeves said Cascade County has approached the base about reopening and validating the 2012 Joint Land Use Study that pertains to development and encroachment issues in the areas around the base. She said they’re asking the other parties that were involved in the 2012 study to participate in the update.

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Commissioner Rick Tryon asked about the future of the runway at Malmstrom.

Reeves said that the Air Force has directed the base to leave it as it is.

No maintenance has been done on the runway in 22 years, she said.

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Air Force officials from the base and Air Force Global Strike Command have told The Electric on numerous occasions in the last few years that they have no intention of reopening the runway.

Reeves said there are no facilities on base currently that could manage fixed wing aircraft and the Air Force is not basing the new bombers at bases that don’t already have bomber aircraft.

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Col. Buel Dickson, 120th Airlift Wing commander, updated commissioners on activities at their base.

The government is expected to award a contract this week to a local company for a $9 million improvement to the apron, which is additional ramp space needed to properly house the unit’s eight C-130s. The ramp was built for fighter jets, which are considerable smaller than the cargo planes.

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Dickson said there are a number of other projects underway at the base and a new $4 million firing range opened about a month ago.

The unit uses Malsmtrom for drop zone training now.

“If we didn’t have that, we’d be in a lot of trouble,” Dickson said.

The unit can use a drop zone in Helena, but that’s time consuming and costly, Dickson said.

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The unit is also working on a new drop zone in the Fort Benton area since Malmstrom doesn’t meet all of the unit’s training needs.

Dickson said they’re about a year out on finalizing the Fort Benton drop zone.

The unit is making improvements in the hopes of receiving the newer C-130J models to replace their older C-130H models.

Dickson said the unit is in the top 14 being considered nationwide. He said a survey team will be here this spring as part of the selection process.

He said the unit is in the top six being considered for an aeromedical unit and that a selection team would also be visiting this spring as part of that process.