Four Democratic senators are pushing the Air Force to send eight C-130J aircraft to the Nevada Air National Guard to bolster firefighting missions as the American West continues to suffer from devastating wildfires.
Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen of Nevada, and Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris of California—the Democratic candidate for vice president—argue that upgrading the Reno, Nev., base’s C-130H fleet with newer C-130Js will help the Guard extinguish fires in Western states.
Air National Guard officials want to replace 1970s-era H-model planes with 24 newer C-130Js across three locations. ANG flies about 150 C-130s in total, the vast majority of which are C-130Hs.
The senators prodded the Air Force in February to consider the 152nd Airlift Wing as a candidate, but the Nevada ANG ultimately was dropped from consideration for C-130 replacements. Then, peak annual wildfire season struck.
Nevada Guardsmen deployed to quash blazes in their home state as well as California and Oregon. Two of their aircraft, outfitted with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS), handled more than 40 fires in northern and southern California as firefighter forces surged across the state, the senators wrote in a letter dated Oct. 16.
MAFFS is a portable fire-retardant delivery system carried by C-130s. Each of the eight systems holds up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant.
“Transfer of this aircraft would provide a necessary upgrade to the 152nd AW’s C-130H fleet and provide support to the Nevada Air National Guard’s vital firefighting mission, which was used most recently as part of the coordinated federal and state response to California’s wildfires,” the senators wrote.
Air Force Magazine recently reported that this year marks the Nevada unit’s largest activation ever. The 152nd Airlift Wing’s C-130s had poured 300,000 gallons of fire retardant over the course of nearly 110 airdrops as of Oct. 1.
California is still battling 12 major wildfires as of Oct. 22, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). More than 4 million acres across the state have burned so far this year.
The four senators believe the Air Force should look at MAFFS, which is used by four airlift wings, as part of the criteria fleets should meet to be replaced. ANG considered mission, capacity, cost, and environmental factors in its search.
“The MAFFS unit is a key part of the 152nd AW’s mission, and an upgrade to new C-130J aircraft would greatly increase its performance flying MAFFS to fight similar deadly fires in the region,” they wrote. “It would also improve interoperability and support for [the U.S. Forest Service], the Bureau of Land Management, [CAL FIRE], and the 146th Airlift Wing in the Channel Islands, which is currently the only MAFFS unit flying the C-130J aircraft.”
The Air Force appears to be moving forward with its selection of other units. Earlier this year, the National Guard Association of the United States said ANG had narrowed the list of airlift wings that could get new aircraft to eight sites in Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Montana, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
The Great Falls Tribune recently reported that the Air Force has pushed its decision on when to deliver the new planes until after the Nov. 3 election, angering other senators who are lobbying for their own home states.