Tester visits Malmstrom, talks helicopters, C-130s, GBSD

Sen. Jon Tester visited Malmstrom Air Force Base on May 21 with Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Brown and Air Force Global Strike Command Commander Gen. Timothy Ray.

Tester has visited the base numerous times and is currently chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

During the visit, he said officials updated him on the status of multiple projects, including the MH-139 Grey Wolf helicopter that is replacing the UH-1N Huey currently in use at Malmstrom and the other two intercontinental ballistic missile bases and the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent that is being developed to replace the Minuteman III ICBM.

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In September, the Air Force awarded a $13.3 billion contract to Northrop Grumman for the engineering and manufacturing development of GBSD.

GBSD missile program progressing

The project includes modernizing and replacing all launch facilities, communication systems, infrastructure, and technologies as necessary to support the GBSD system, according to the Air Force’s notice.

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Malmstrom Air Force Base is set to be the second missile base to get the new system, according to the Secretary of the Air Force. F.E. Warren AFB in Wyoming is scheduled as the first base and Minot in North Dakota is scheduled third.

There’s been significant public debate over keeping the Minuteman III, which became operational in 1970, and extending its lifespan instead of replacing it with GBSD, which is expected to last through 2075.

In mid-May, Ray, AFGSC commander, told the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces that extending the Minuteman III through 2075 would cost $38 billion more than developing GBSD, which is an estimated $95 billion program.

Tester said GBSD is needed to modernize the nuclear triad and the modern technology is needed to meet threats posed by China, Russia and others.

He said that not to develop GBSD would be a “gross waste” of taxpayer dollars.

Malmstrom officials said last year that the Grey Wolf was expected to arrive at Malmstrom in September 2021, but there have been challenges getting certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, Tester said.

He said now the helicopter likely won’t arrive at Malmstrom until October 2022.

Malmstrom is slated to be the first base to receive the new helicopters.

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The new helicopter required a new tactical response force/helicopter operations alert facility at Malmstrom. Construction of the $17.4 million facility was completed in late 2020.

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The facility will house the 341st Security Forces Group Tactical Response Force alongside the 40th Helicopter Squadron. The TRF teams and 40th HS crews work in tandem to provide missile field security.

The construction contract was awarded to Swank Enterprises in July 2018 and construction began in August 2018.

Malmstrom’s new facility that allows TRF and helicopter operations to co-locate is a first among the Air Force Global Strike Command’s three intercontinental ballistic missile bases, according to the Air Force.

Air Force establishes unit to test Huey replacement helicopter

The new helicopters also required the construction of a new $18.7 million missile maintenance dispatch facility, which is expected to be completed in August, according to Malmstrom officials.

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In June 2019, the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a contract to a joint venture between WHH Nisqually and Garco for the project and contractors broke ground in 2019. The missile maintenance dispatch facility is 43,500 square feet of new construction.

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.

During his May 21 visit, Tester also met with airmen from the 120th Airlift Wing.

The wing was not selected for the newer C-130J models and Tester has been critical of the basing process.

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Last year, he told The Electric that the Air Force was shuttering some Air National Guard cargo units and without the C-130J, the 120th could be in danger of losing its mission.

Tester said that’s no longer a concern.

Earlier this month, National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which Tester chairs, that the Montana Air National Guard, which flies the oldest H models in the service, would be among the units to receive the H models that are being replaced.

A 2018 version of the Mobility Capabilities and Requirements Study by U.S. Transportation Command and the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office called for a reduction in C-130 capability and the new version is expected in July.

Montana on shortlist to receive new C-130 aircraft

During the subcommittee hearing, Hokanson said that there was a need to retain all existing C-130 squadrons, which operate abroad and stateside.