Tester: ‘I don’t want an air fleet that’s sitting on the ground’

Senator questions Air Force Secretary about upgrade of MANG’s C-130 fleet, potential RED HORSE transfer

(U.S. Senate) – During a Senate Defense Appropriations hearing today, Senator Jon Tester asked Air Force Secretary Deborah James tough questions about her department’s plan to potentially transfer Malmstrom’s RED HORSE unit to Guam, and to upgrade Montana Air National Guard (MANG)’s C-130 fleet.

Tester introduced a bill last summer that was included in December’s National Defense Authorization Act to give the Air Force flexibility to modernize MANG’s C-130H fleet to meet national and international rules. The fleet must be upgraded by 2020 or the planes could be grounded.

During today’s hearing, the Air Force admitted that even with the added flexibility, the service will likely miss the 2020 deadline. Tester pointed out that the Air Force has had years to meet modernization requirements.

“I would love to see who they’re modernizing and when,” Tester said. “I don’t want to end up with a fleet that’s sitting on the ground.”

Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh said that the department intends to apply for a temporary waiver so that MANG’s C-130s can continue to fly if they miss the 2020 deadline.

Tester also raised concerns about efforts to consolidate the 819th RED HORSE Squadron at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Last year, the Air Force began drawing down 155 Airmen and is considering consolidating the Montana unit and one stationed in Guam. Air Force Secretary James said that a final decision on consolidation will come in the next few months.

Tester pointed out that moving the 819th and its equipment could negatively impact MANG’s 219th RED HORSE Squadron. The two units work closely together and have carried out numerous projects across the state, including road repairs in Great Falls and an overhaul of the Tabor Dam in St. Ignatius.

“My concern is that it would eliminate their ability to do their work because a lot of equipment would go with them,” Tester said.

Tester first shared his concerns about the RED HORSE squadron with Secretary James last summer.