Great Falls Tribune: New C-130J aircraft coming to Great Falls for Montana Air National Guard mission

by David Murray

Montana Sen. Jon Tester announced Wednesday that the Montana Air National Guard will receive eight C-130J (Super Hercules) heavy-lift transport aircraft — a major equipment upgrade that will guarantee MANG’s mission in Great Falls for decades to come.

The airmen and airwomen at MANG are currently equipped with eight older generation C-130Hs, an aircraft that was developed in the 1950s and has been a workhorse for the U.S. Air Force for more than 60 years.

“This is good news for all sorts of reasons,” Tester said Wednesday. “ Keeping our country safe is my number one priority, but it also ensures MANG will have the equipment they need to continue doing the job they do as one of the best National Guard units in America.”

“We’re in a time, when there are all sorts of threats from our enemies, and threats from things like weather,” he continued. “These C-130Js set all those capabilities so that we can address any evolving threats that are out there. They are perfect for Montana. They can carry up to 45,000 pounds of cargo, they can be used to fight wildfires, they can do search and rescue operations. It’s a big plane, it’s a big mission. They are just an amazing aircraft.

The eight C-130Js coming to Montana are part of a larger $1.8 billion military appropriation passed by Congress earlier this year. As Chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee Tester pressed hard to get half of the 16 C-130Js approved for deployment assigned to the MANG base at Gore Field.

“I’ve got US Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, and other leadership to come visit, not only with Malmstrom, but with MANG as well to talk about the airlift assets that we have and how we can use the C-130Js,” Tester said.

He said the new aircraft will not change the 120th Airlift Wing’s mission with the MANG to provide prompt mobilization during times of military conflict and to provide assistance during national emergencies.

“What it does is, makes them much more efficient and much more dependable,” said Tester. “These C130 jays are absolutely the best technology. Everything is up-to-date. It doesn’t change their mission, it just gives them state-of-the-art equipment that’s much, much more dependable, and makes sure they are secure in their mission for decades and decades to come.”

MANG originally obtained its aging C-130H aircraft back in 2011 after a base closure realignment program stripped them of their F-15 fighter wing mission. At that time there was concern that the Air Force might choose to decommission the MANG airfield closing operations there entirely. The base was ultimately converted from its F-15 fighter wing mission to become a C130 airlift wing.

“We ended up getting the C-130Hs, which we were thankful for at the time,” Tester said, “ but these aircraft were new when I graduated from high school. Truthfully, the C-130Hs should be in a museum. They’re really old and they’ve got old technology.”

Tester said that he had not been given a timeline as to when the new aircraft would be delivered, but said he would use his position in the Senate to push to “get these planes as soon as possible.”

“The money has been appropriated, and these aircraft are being built,” he said. “Nothing is forever, but this is going to make sure that for decades, and decades to come the airman and airwomen at MANG will have this mission.”