National Guard Chief Tells Tester Montana’s C-130 Mission Threatened as Trump Raids Funds for Border Wall

At a hearing on Trump Administration defense priorities, Senator defends Montana National Guard

At a Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing today, U.S. Senator Jon Tester raised concerns over the Montana National Guard’s ability to respond to emergencies at home and abroad, following President Trump’s move to raid funds dedicated to critical equipment and new C-130Js for the National Guard to help pay for construction of a wall at the southern border.

At the hearing, Tester questioned Chief of the National Guard Bureau General Joseph L. Lengyel regarding the nation’s aging C-130H fleet and the Guard’s ability to secure new C-130Js—aircraft critical to the long-term ability of the Montana Air National Guard (MANG) to provide airlift support and complete other missions, including disaster relief and firefighting duties.

“So you know why I’m nervous, right?” Tester asked General Lengyel. “There are no longer any H-models in the active Air Force—they’re all in the Guard. And the 120th Airlift Wing in Montana is flying the oldest aircraft in our entire inventory—planes built during the Gerald Ford Administration… We only have a finite amount of funding for a finite amount of aircraft. So is it fair to say that this recent reprogramming will delay the procurement of more J-models? The money’s gone unless we restore it, it’s going to delay it.”

General Lengyel confirmed, “Yes sir.”

“This will force the Air Guard to sustain its H-models even longer, relying on aircraft that will require more and more maintenance and become less and less safe and effective,” Tester continued. “The President is also raiding over a billion dollars from an account being used by the 120th in Great Falls and others to modernize its C-130Hs… What does the draining of the National Guard Equipment Account do for the C-130s in Montana?”

General Lengyel responded, “Things like threat warning systems, things like avionics upgrades, things like cockpit situational awareness programs, things like displays that allow us to find and depict threats on the ground—those things will be delayed on implementing to our aircraft and the aircraft will be affected including those in Montana. That’s a near-term threat.”

Tester also highlighted that the President’s move to raid funding for a border wall jeopardizes the Guard’s ability to protect our national security, at the expense of U.S. taxpayer dollars:

“I’m going to tell you, when we talk about building a wall, and how silly it is to spend $25 million bucks a mile, and they say ‘well there’s technology on top of it’…and then we’re going to fund it… not with the taxpayers from Mexico, but by raiding funds that are necessary to keep this country safe,” Tester stressed. “Congress needs to stand up. You need the equipment you need to do your job.”

For years, Tester has fought on behalf of MANG—advocating for new aircraft and military construction projects, while fighting on behalf of critical modernization efforts for its aging fleet of C-130Hs. He successfully included legislation in the fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, providing the Air Force with the authorization and funding it needed to modernize its C-130H fleet.

In February, Tester spoke out strongly against the Trump Administration’s plan to gut critical funding from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) military readiness and disaster relief programs, including $1.3 billion from projects under the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account which provides National Guard units resources to accomplish their missions safely and effectively. In Montana, Tester successfully secured funding to provide critical equipment such as fire trucks, high frequency radios, snow plows, and rescue equipment used by Guard units across the country to respond to domestic emergencies.

Tester also sent a letter to DoD Secretary Esper in response to the reprogramming request, calling on the Department to rescind the President’s decision which would jeopardize the safety, readiness, and effectiveness of the U.S. military.