Baucus and Tester: F-15s will stay in Great Falls

Senators fought to preserve flying mission for Montana Air National Guard

(U.S. SENATE) – The Montana Air National Guard’s F-15 fighters are staying in Great Falls, Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester announced today.  Baucus and Tester met with key Defense Department officials, including Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, to keep the F-15s in Montana.

The Defense Department today told the Senators that the Air Force is suspending all aircraft transfers for the rest of the year with the expectation that Congress will pass a provision Baucus and Tester worked to secure in the Defense Authorization Bill that will block all transfer of aircraft through the end of the 2013 Fiscal Year.  The C-130 mission Baucus and Tester announced in February is not set to arrive in Montana until fiscal year 2014 and the Senators will continue working to ensure that mission arrives on schedule. 

Tester said today’s decision will preserve good jobs for Montana’s hard-working Airmen.

“Today’s news makes it clear: the F-15s are staying in Great Falls this year,” Tester said.  “Montana’s Airmen are first-class and deserve the certainty of a manned flying mission.  That’s been my goal since day one and will be my focus until the C-130s touch down on Gore Hill.”

Baucus and Tester announced the C-130 mission in February, crediting its arrival to “the world-class reputation of MANG and its men and women.”

“A lot of hard work paid off today with a big win for MANG and Montana, and we couldn’t have secured this commitment if it weren’t for the world class reputation of Montana’s airmen,” Baucus said.  “With the F-15 victory now secured, we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and continue working together to see to it that the C-130 mission arrives on Gore Hill as planned.”

Baucus and Tester have been working for years to ensure a long-term flying mission for MANG.  The pair told Secretary Panetta in May that “until the C-130s arrive, it is important that Montana Airmen are provided with the certainty of a continued F-15 mission.” 

The House of Representatives’ Armed Services committee recently approved legislation banning the Defense Department from moving the F-15s to California in 2013, but left the door open for the department to begin moving the planes this summer as planned.  Baucus and Tester worked with Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin and Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye to ensure the Senate bill barred the transfer from moving forward this summer as well as 2013.  Today, the Department of Defense confirmed it will follow the direction of the Senate legislation and not transfer any aircraft in 2012, with the expectation that Congress will pass a Defense Authorization Bill this year blocking all transfers through the end of the 2013 fiscal year.

Baucus’ and Tester’s letter to Defense Secretary Panetta is available online HERE.  Chairman Levin’s letter to Panetta is HERE and Chairman Inouye’s letter is HERE.

Today’s response letter from Secretary Panetta that blocks all aircraft movement is available HERE.

Baucus and Tester announced the C-130 mission in February after years of top-level meetings and advocacy.  The press release from that announcement is HERE.