Texas, Montana Fighting Over C-130s
By Era Sundar
The Air Force is planning to move its C-130 cargo planes out of Texas. The planes were used to douse flames during last year’s wildfires, and some elected officials say moving them could leave Texas and other Gulf states ill-prepared to deal with major emergencies.
The eight C-130s, stationed in Fort Worth at least for now, are at the center of a bitter custody battle.
If the Air Force has its way, the aircraft will be moved to a base in Montana. But Gov. Rick Perry, who was a C-130 pilot in the National Guard, says the planes should stay right where they are.
“Having the ability to move patients and ambulatory individuals very quickly can only be done by those aircraft,” Perry said. “And having the capability to keep those aircraft in the state of Texas is so important.”
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek says the Department of Defense is facing budget cuts and has to distribute its diminishing airlift capabilities more evenly. The region around Montana has a shortage of C-130 aircraft, hence the move. But Stefanek says Texas will still have access to C-130s.
“The C-130s in Little Rock, Ark., and Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi would also be available to respond to issues in the Texas area,” Stefanek said.
Those are active-duty Air Force planes. The ones in Texas are National Guard planes. Perry says he can mobilize the Texas National Guard planes in two hours with a phone call. But he’s less clear on how long it would take the Pentagon to deploy theirs.
As for the move being cost-effective, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, doesn’t think so. She proposed an amendment to the military’s budget that would delay the move for at least a year. Granger spokesman Matt Leffingwell says Montana is not equipped to take on the C-130s.
“Montana had an F-15 squadron,” Leffingwell said. “The facilities are very different. There’s going to be a cost of building new facilities but also training the pilots. We had heard from the Air National Guard that the cost estimates would be anywhere between $70 million and $100 million. But the Air Force could not confirm or deny that.”
The issue is far from resolved. Congress has to make a decision in light of the Department of Defense budget. And needs to hear the input of everyone from Gulf state governors to all 34 members of the Texas congressional delegation.
There is also pressure from Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. The Helena Independent Record reports that Montana’s F-15s are being moved to California and that Schweitzer will sue to prevent their removal without a suitable replacement.