Great Falls Tribune: Malmstrom first to receive new 'Grey Wolf' helicopters, senators say

by Phil Drake

Malmstrom Air Force Base will be the first to receive new MH-139 Grey Wolf helicopters to replace the Vietnam-era Huey fleet, Montana’s two U.S. senators said, adding the new fleet is expected to be fully operational by 2023.

The announcement was made Tuesday night by the U.S. Air Force and praised by Montana Sens. Steve Daines, a Republican, and Jon Tester, a Democrat, who both said they had advocated for the upgrade for years.

Daines said the upgrades will begin this summer.

Tester called it “welcomed news.”

“At a time of increased global threats and near peer adversaries, this new batch of helicopters will strengthen our nation’s defense capabilities, secure our ICBM fields, and provide greater relief and certainty to the airmen who work tirelessly to keep us safe,” Tester said in an email.

Daines also called it “great news” for the state and the country’s national security.

He said Gen. Timothy Ray, head of the Air Force Global Strike Command, shared the news earlier Tuesday.

Gen. Timothy Ray, Air Force Global Strike Command commander.
Funding for the helicopters was through the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act and the Defense Appropriations bill. It is the first major acquisition for the command in its 10-year history, Air Force officials said.

Daines said the new helicopters will provide critical security for intercontinental ballistic missiles stationed around Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Tester said the helicopters will be used to secure and transport airmen between launching sites. He said he expressed serious concerns in 2016 regarding Malmstrom’s outdated Huey helicopter fleet, saying it did not fully secure the country’s ICBM sites and proposed a plan to use an existing Army contract to replace the fleet with modern helicopters.

The Hueys, also known as UH-1N, entered the operational Air Force in 1970.

Daines in 2016 had also called on the U.S. Air Force to prioritize the readiness of Montana’s military missions by modernizing aircraft at Malmstrom.

The Air Force dubbed the MH-139A helicopter the “Grey Wolf” during a Dec. 19 naming ceremony at Duke Field, Florida. It was derived from the wild species that roams the northern tier of North America, which also encompasses the intercontinental ballistic missile bases, Air Force officials said.

“It strikes fear in the hearts of many,” Ray said at the naming ceremony. “Its range is absolutely inherent to the ICBM fields we have.”

“As they hunt as a pack, they attack as one, they bring the force of many,” he said. “That’s exactly how you need to approach the nuclear security mission.”

They close the capability gaps of the UH-1N “Hueys” in areas of speed, range, endurance, payload and survivability in support of the command’s ICBM missions. They can also perform civil search and rescue, airlift support, National Capital Region missions, as well as survival school and test support, officials said.

Steven Grooms, the chair of the Montana Defense Alliance with the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, was happy with news of the upgrade.

“It’s time that we update the helicopters and it’s pretty exciting we will be the first wing to receive it,” he said, adding it will be an added resource for Malmstrom to carry out its mission.

Grooms described the Grey Wolf as a “work horse.”

The helicopters will also provide support at ICBM fields in Wyoming, North Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska as well, officials said. The Air Force said will purchase up to 84 MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopters, training devices and associated support equipment from Boeing.