Montana Air National Guard to get C-130 planes to replace F-15s

Associated Press

by Matt Gouras

HELENA — The Montana Air National Guard will get new airplanes and a new mission to replace the F-15s being taken away from the Great Falls base, according to U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus.

The Obama administration has promised to include a new mission based around the C-130 transport planes as part of the president's new budget plan, the senators said Friday.

The Democrats said the C-130s bring a highly valued mission that will make sure the Great Falls air base and its airmen are kept in action.

U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Republican, countered that Montana should be able to keep its F-15s in addition to receiving the new mission based around the C-130.

Details were not released on how much equipment and personnel would be needed to operate the new C-130 mission, although the senators say it means hundreds of jobs to the Great Falls area.

Montana National Guard Brigadier General John Walsh said that new mission will fit into the existing command structure, and he expects manpower requirements to be similar.

The Air Force had previously announced plans to shift the F-15 fighter mission to California, shrouding the fate of many jobs at the Montana base. Montana leaders have since been scrambling for a replacement mission amid tighter budgets planned for the military.

The F-15 mission had been a temporary assignment ever since the Guard lost the F-16 Fighting Falcon in the fall of 2008. There had been talk of switching the base over to C-27J transport aircraft until the Air Force recently decided to curtail that effort.

Baucus and Tester said a separate Pentagon announcement to cut spending is stripping Air Guard units in other parts of the country of their flying missions.

"This mission is a victory for MANG, Great Falls and Montana — and it was no accident. The C-130s are on their way to Gore Hill because of a lot of hard work by a lot of good people, including our Montana airmen," Baucus said in a statement.

MANG will be getting C-130Hs, a rugged transport plane that has been in operation since the 1950s.