Helena Independent Record: MANG in Great Falls chosen for C-130J Super Hercules, Air Force says

by Phil Drake

Montana Air National Guard’s 120th Airlift Wing in Great Falls has been selected as one of four preferred locations to receive the C-130J Super Hercules, the Department of the U.S. Air Force announced Thursday.

The new aircraft would replace the aging C-130Hs, pending the outcome of environmental assessments, Air Force officials said. Eight C-130J aircraft will be used to replace the C-130H fleet at each location.

The three other sites named as preferred locations were the 103rd Airlift Wing (Hartford, Connecticut), 133rd Airlift Wing (Minneapolis) and 182nd Airlift Wing (Peoria, Illinois), Air force officials said.

“This significant series upgrade will require new flight qualification for pilots and loadmasters transitioning airframes. Any excess in manpower due to this shift will be repurposed through the Air National Guard corporate process and will vary by location,” the Air Force said in a news release.

The Air Force will do environmental impact analysis at each location, which are expected to be completed in fiscal year 2025 before a final decision is made, officials said.

Sen. Jon Tester, chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, said the aircraft are a “perfect fit for Montana.”

The Montana Democrat said “they can carry up to 45,000 pounds of cargo, can be used to fight wildfires, and can conduct search and rescue operations,” he said in an email. “It’s a big plane with a big mission — and it’s the right fit for a big state like Montana.”

Tester, noted he has for years worked to bring C-130Js to MANG — advocating for new aircraft and military construction projects, while seeking critical modernization efforts for its aging fleet of C-130Hs.

Gov. Gianforte announced the Air Force’s decision early Thursday and praised the adjutant general of the Montana National Guard, Maj. Gen. J. Peter Hronek, for his work to secure the new fleet.

“This recognition would not be possible if it weren’t for the tireless and dedicated efforts of Maj. Gen. Hronek to get this done for Montana,” he said.

Hronek said he was proud of the airmen and how they have performed in the C-130 mission since 2013.

“Through their dedication to mission accomplishment, success during deployments, and outstanding inspection results, they have shown the Air Force and Air National Guard they are deserving of the C-130J’s to proudly defend our nation and state,” he said.

The Defense Appropriations Act of FY22 and FY23 appropriated 32 C-130Js for the Air National Guard. On March 24, 2023, the director of the Air National Guard approved eight bases as potential locations for these aircraft, the governor’s office said.

Tester said in a news release he secured more than $1.7 billion in funding for 16 C-130Js in the most recent FY23 Appropriations Package, and $1.8 billion in funding for 16 C-130Js for the Air National Guard in the FY22 Appropriations Package.

Tester noted he was the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation to vote for this funding.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., released a statement saying he had spent years “advocating” for the aircraft to come to MANG. 

“The new C-130s will be right at home in Montana,” he said in an email. He also praised Hronek and Hronek’s staff.

“Our airmen and facilities are second to none in the country so I cannot think of a better place for this new and improved version of the C-130,” Daines said in the email.

Brig. Gen. Buel Dickson said Thursday the upgrade was made possible through a collaborative effort between Montana’s senators, governor, adjutant general and the combined efforts of “our Airmen in the Montana Air National Guard.” 

This upgrade will require pilots and loadmasters to undergo new flight qualifications to conduct their mission, officials said.

“Our Airmen are not unfamiliar with change as we converted our entire mission in 2013 from the F-15C/D’s to the C-130H1’s,” Dickson said in a news release. “By upgrading to the C-130J’s, we are once again proving our military strength and domestic capability while ensuring a long and successful mission here in Montana.”