Montana on shortlist to receive new C-130 aircraft

The 120th Airlift Wing of the Montana Air National Guard has made the shortlist to receive C-130J model aircraft to replace the current older C-130H models.

Funding for the C-130Js has been a point of contention for Montana’s congressional delegation and the National Guard as the Trump administration has reprogrammed $196 million of that funding for construction of the border wall.

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The 120th is one of the eight bases nationwide now on the shortlist for the C-130J models. The 120th currently operates eight C-130H model aircraft.

“This is great news for the men and women of the Montana Air National Guard—who rely each and every day on C-130 aircraft to fulfill their flying mission safely and effectively,” Sen. Jon Tester said in a release. “That’s why I continue pushing the Air Force to deliver this new fleet to Montana, and why the President’s move to redirect C-130J funding towards an ineffective border wall puts that funding at risk. Montana isn’t out of the woods yet, but we’re one step closer to certainty for our flying missions in the months and years ahead.”

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Sen. Steve Daines also asked the Air Force to add the 120th to the shortlist for the newer aircraft.

“This is great news for our men and women serving in the Montana Air National Guard and Great Falls,” Daines said in a release. “Modernizing our aging fleet will strengthen our national security and ensure our men and women have the resources necessary to keep America safe. That’s why I fought to highlight the work of the 120th Airlift Wing to Secretary Barrett to ensure Montana was on the Air Force’s short list for this project. I will continue fighting to ensure MANG is first to receive the replacement C-130J aircraft.”

 If the 120th doesn’t make the final three, it will be subject to the border wall reprogramming and may not receive the newer aircraft.

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In an interview with The Electric on March 13, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said there are enough C-130J model aircraft for three units, most of them new and one transferred from active duty Air Force.

It’s important that the 120th make the cut for the new models, Tester said, because the Pentagon has plans to shutter four C-130 cargo units over the next five years.

Tester said that if the 120th doesn’t get the new model aircraft, Montana could be considered to lose the cargo mission altogether.

“So we’re fighting to keep the cargo mission,” Tester said.

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The H model aircraft are being phased out and in the meantime, the Pentagon had been upgrading their avionics, but those projects were also delayed due to funding cuts, National Guard Chief Joseph Lengyel told Tester during a Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in early March.

The avionics upgrades are needed by 2020 to comply with Federal Aviation Administration and International Civil Aviation Organizing Communication, Navigation, Surveillance/Air Traffic Management mandates.

On March 13, Tester was back in Great Falls and visited the 120th and met with The Electric.

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He said then that he was confident the 120th would make the short list.

The Montana Air National Guard is also being considered for an aeromedical evacuation squadron, which would provide patient movement during wartime and domestic operations.

The new squadron location must meet two requirements: it must be co-located with an operational Guard unit with C-130 or C-17 squadrons to support domestic operations; and can’t be co-located with an existing aeromedical evacuation squadron, Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon, told The Electric in December 2018.

Tester told The Electric last week that the aeromedical unit isn’t a replacement for getting J models and without J models, the unit would be less likely to get the new unit.

He said the 120th has an available facility for the potential aeromedical unit.

In late February, Gov. Steve Bullock sent a letter to Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte to join in asking for an end to the reprogramming.

“As Commander in Chief of the Montana National Guard, the decision to send our Soldiers and Airmen anywhere – to the front lines or a forest fire – is one of the most difficult decisions I make. It’s unacceptable to me, or to any Montanan, that we are doing so with outdated aircraft,” Bullock said.  “It couldn’t be clearer that the President is choosing to fund his border wall over keeping our citizen soldiers and Airmen safe. By that matter, he’s choosing a vanity project over honoring those who defend our freedom and liberty and keep our communities safe. I won’t stand idly by until Montana’s National Guard members are given what they are owed.”

The National Governors Association is also opposed to the reprogramming and the Adjutants General Association of the United States, including General Quinn of Montana, expressed how reprogramming impacts the National Guard budget.