Senators Want Upgraded C-130s Assigned to Western Firefighting Mission

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Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System-equipped C-130 planes.
Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System-equipped C-130 planes are mission-ready at McClellan Airbase, Sacramento, Calf., July 31, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Michelle Brooks)

For the second time in less than a year, a group of senators has requested that the U.S. Air Force consider stationing upgraded C-130 Hercules firefighting aircraft in Nevada due to worsening wildfire seasons in the western part of the country.

Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen of Nevada, as well as Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris of California, petitioned Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett last week to reevaluate stationing a fleet of eight C-130J models with the 152nd Airlift Wing at the Nevada Air National Guard Base in Reno to bolster the firefighting mission.

The wing currently flies the H model. J models typically have new engines and better propellers; they also have more lift capability, can fly faster and have a longer range.

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"As devastating wildfires become more common occurrences in Nevada, California, and the western United States, we continue to believe in the importance of interoperability across these states to support future firefighting missions," the senators wrote, citing additional fires in Oregon. "Ensuring that the National Guard is ready to assist the response to these emergencies in a swift and effective manner should be a priority for the Air Force as it considers where to send the new aircraft."

The 152nd flies aging C-130H models equipped with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, known as MAFFS, which drops up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant out of the aircraft. This fire season, the 152nd's duty was extended because of the prolonged fire season, according to the Air Force.

The lawmakers first made the request in February, a month before the Air National Guard announced its list of base candidates for the newer C-130J model, known as the Super Hercules. Although officials considered the Reno base early in the process, it was ultimately removed from consideration in March.

"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," the senators said. "We continue to believe that the transfer of this aircraft would provide a necessary upgrade to the 152nd AW's C-130H fleet."

The only other MAFFS-equipped C-130s are with the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve Command, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado; the 153rd Airlift Wing of the Wyoming Air National Guard; and the 146th Airlift Wing of the California Air National Guard. The 146th has transitioned to J-model C-130s.

Of the Air Force's fleet of 309 C-130s, nearly half -- 149 -- are flown by the Guard, according to an Air National Guard fact sheet. "The Guard flies 133 H-model planes and 16 J-models. The active component flies 108 J-models, and the Air Force Reserve flies 42 H-models and 10 J-models," it states.

California has recorded more than 8,600 fire incidents in California, with over 4 million total acres burned, according to statistics from Cal Fire. By comparison, fires destroyed roughly 260,000 acres in the state in 2019.

The fires have affected some military bases in the state. For example, in August, the Air Force temporarily evacuated all non-mission essential personnel at Travis Air Force Base, located northeast of San Francisco, as surrounding wildfires threatened the area.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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