Senate bill includes funding to upgrade MANG C-130s

Great Falls Tribune

by Jenn Rowell

The defense appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015, which starts Oct. 1, passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday and includes provisions for Malmstrom Air Force Base and the 120th Airlift Wing at the Montana Air National Guard.

The bill includes $549.3 billion in base and overseas contingency operation funding, down from $572 billion in the fiscal year 2014 appropriations. The base budget appropriation is $489.6 billion and $59.7 billion for overseas contingency operations of the departments of Defense and State, down from $85.2 billion in the current fiscal year.

The bill includes an amendment that would fund avionics modernizations for the C-130s that arrived in Montana this year.

MANG’s C-130 H models need avionics upgrades by 2020 to comply with Federal Aviation Administration and International Civil Aviation Organization Communication, Navigation, Surveillance/Air Traffic Management mandates.

If the avionics upgrades are not completed, the C-130H will not be able to operate in significant portions of domestic and international airspace, according to a letter to Congress from the Adjutants General Association of the United States.

Brig. Gen. Matthew Quinn, the Montana adjutant general, signed the letter.

The House of Representatives passed a version of the National Defense Authorization Act that prohibits funding for any National Guard units receiving funding for C-130H models. Instead, they’d prefer to purchase the new C-130J model.

“We are not willing to risk grounding our legacy C-130H fleet for non-compliance with mandated requirements of the FAA and ICAO and thereby risk the viability of our airlift wings,” the adjutant generals wrote to Congress. “The prudent path instead is to allow for a cost effective ‘alternative solution’ that can be quickly accomplished while preserving a realistic fiscal path to C-130J recapitalization.”

Upgrading the avionics portion for the C-130H would cost about $2 million to $3 million per plane. The newer J model planes cost about $19 million each, Guard officials said.

Sen. Jon Tester sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee and added language to the bill that would transfer funds to the C-130 squadrons in the Air Force budget to begin a modernization program in 2015.

The defense appropriations bill now goes before the full Senate, and the House will also pass a version. Those versions will have to be agreed upon by both chambers before defense funding is finalized.

The aircraft also need engine upgrades, which the Air Force is currently considering.

Some H models need center wing box upgrades, but five of the planes assigned to MANG already have the upgrade, and the other three are scheduled to be swapped out for planes with the upgrade, according to MANG officials.

According to Tester’s office, the bill also includes funding for Malmstrom’s ICBM force and a provision preventing the Air Force from reducing missiles and missile silo levels below the levels in the New START treaty.

The Pentagon announced in April that it will remove 50 Minuteman III missiles from their silos to meet nuclear reductions called for under an arms-reduction treaty with Russia.

The empty silos will remain in warm status, meaning they will remain fully operational and can be armed with missiles at any time.

The Air Force and U.S. Strategic command will determine which 50 missiles will be pulled from the 450 silos currently deployed across the three missile fields operated by Malmstrom, F.E. Warren and Minot Air Force bases.

Each wing operates and maintains 150 ICBMs. Four intercontinental ballistic missile test launchers at Vandenberg AFB in California are also included as nondeployed launchers.

The U.S. ICBM force is made up entirely of the Minuteman III missile and all have been reconfigured to carry a single warhead.

The empty silos count toward the nondeployed launcher limit of 800 under the New START treaty, which was ratified by the Senate in 2010 and entered force in 2011.

The determination of which missiles will be removed hasn’t been made yet, and there’s currently no time line for that decision other than the New START deadline of February 2018.

According to defense officials, the expectation is that the empty silos will be distributed among the three missile wings and will rotate depending on maintenance and operational needs.

To keep all 450 silos, the military has to make other cuts to the nuclear force to meet the limits of 800 nondeployed and 700 deployed launchers.