Tester questions Air Force on C-130, MANG future

During a Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing on Navy and Air Force Weapons Systems Divestments, Air Force officials said that they won’t change the 120th Airlift Wing’s mission without involving the state.

Sen. Jon Tester chairs the committee and called the hearing to question the Air Force about its plans to retire C-130H aircraft since the service’s proposed budget includes divesting some of the aircraft.

The 120th of the Montana Air National Guard has eight C-130Hs and operates at the Great Falls International Airport.

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Last week, Military Times reported on a similar hearing and The Electric asked Tester’s office, as well as Sen. Steve Daines’ office, if there was any discussion on changing the mission of the 120th.

Neither office provided a response, but both senators signed on a June letter asking the Air Force to fund the purchase of eight new C-130J model aircraft.

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The Air Force has replaced some of the C-130H models flown by Air National Guard units with the newer J models, but the 120th was not selected for those aircraft. Over the last year, there has been discussion by the Air Force of retiring the C-130H models and last year, Tester said he was concerned that could impact the mission at the 120th.

The proposed Defense Department budget includes about $2.8 billion in divestments from legacy weapons systems, according to Tester’s office, such as divesting eight C-130Hs.

The 120th has recently replaced some of its H model aircraft with new H models. In a release, Tester’s office said the lack of new aircraft for the 120th causes concern about “the long-term viability of the wing, but the Air Force’s commitment means Montana will be a full partner in deciding the future of the base.”

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“These planes are only flown by the Air Guard units and that cut is enough to eliminate an entire Guard unit…Has the Air Force identified a unit that you want to convert to a new mission,” Tester asked during the hearing.

“We have not yet identified a unit,” Lt. Gen. David Nahom, U.S. Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs responded during the hearing. “We have some replacement missions we’re looking at, and we’re seeking units that we can come to a mutually agreeable replacement mission. We are not going to force a unit to change their mission…we’re hoping we can make some mutually agreeable changes, if not, we’ll look elsewhere.”

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Last week, during a House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee hearing, Military Times reported that Nahom said the Air Force wouldn’t change a C-130 unit unless Air Force officials, the unit and the home state could agree on a replacement.

Military Times reported that the Air Force planned to cut the “C-130 inventory from 300 aircraft to 255, or 45 planes across about five units, as part of its fiscal 2022 budget request. Thirteen of those would be H-model airframes, five would be MC-130H special-operations aircraft and two would be the EC-130H Compass Call models undergoing replacement.”