Senators make pitch for extra C-27J aircraft

Great Falls Tribune

by Peter Johnson

Montana's U.S. senators Monday asked the Air Force and National Guard Bureau to add at least one extra C-27J aircraft to the new mission being assigned to the Montana Air National Guard.

Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester joined senators from other states set to receive the maneuverable, medium-sized transport plane in urging Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Craig McKinley to boost the number of planes per Guard base from four to at least five.

The Air Force's original plan called for buying 38 planes and allocating four each to nine Air National Guard bases. One, in Mississippi, would get an additional two planes for training.

Just seven bases have been named so far, including the Montana Air National Guard, stationed at Great Falls International Airport.

The Air Force also has announced plans to shift MANG's F-15 aircraft to the California Air Guard base in Fresno pending environmental reviews.

MANG officials have projected Montana would lose about one-third of its 900 traditional, part-time Guard members if the unit loses the F-15s and gets only four C-27J aircraft.

Baucus and Tester have joined local military supporters in urging other missions be added so that no MANG jobs are lost in Great Falls. They've noted that the Guard plays a state role since its members can be called up by the governor to help fight forest fires and deal with flooding.

The Montana senators joined their counterparts in other states in writing the generals to say four C-27J aircraft would be inadequate for training and emergency help in individual states.

They argued that at least two of the four transport planes at each Guard base likely would be overseas most times and one might be in some stage of maintenance. That would give each Guard unit only one plane at a time with which to train or respond to state emergencies, they said.

"This is unacceptable," they said.

Adjutant generals of the seven states named to get the C-27J mission recently expressed similar concerns to Congress, saying such small units could weaken national and homeland defense.

The state generals urged Congress to buy four more aircraft, 42 instead of 38, and to direct that the Pentagon place six aircraft at each of the seven Guard bases already named, and skip naming two more bases.

The state generals said that would allow each unit to train adequately and fulfill both national defense needs and state emergencies.

Tester, Baucus and the other senators supported that idea. Another option, they said, would be to divvy the current 38 planes among seven bases. That would give each five, the Mississippi base seven, and leave one to spare.