Air Force officials are hashing out which missions to award bases around the country that retire their 1960s-era C-130H Hercules planes — potentially requiring a completely different skill set than a base already offers.
The Air Force wants to chop its C-130 inventory from 300 aircraft to 255, or 45 planes across about five units, as part of its fiscal 2022 budget request. Thirteen of those would be H-model airframes, five would be MC-130H special-operations aircraft and two would be the EC-130H Compass Call models undergoing replacement.
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, raised the issue Tuesday at a House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee hearing, questioning senior Air Force leaders on what might become of local jobs when the C-130H leaves.
“The C-130H is on the block in Mansfield, Ohio,” Turner said of Mansfield Lahm Air National Guard Base. “It could be affected significantly as a result of the decreased number of planes that will need to be transitioned for that facility and other facilities across the country.”
Around 30 active-duty, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard installations host a variant of the versatile airlifter, though the Guard owns about half of the planes. The aircraft can operate from unpaved dirt and is the main airlifter that drops troops and equipment into hostile areas, according to the service.
Lt. Gen. David Nahom, Air Force deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, pledged not to yank an area’s C-130 enterprise unless Air Force leaders, a unit and its home state reach consensus on a suitable replacement.
“We’re working very closely with units that have C-130s to see if there’s something out there that we can agree on,” he said at the hearing.
Some installations are welcoming the newer C-130J Super Hercules, which requires three crew members instead of the H-model’s five. In other cases, bases may pivot away from a C-130 variant altogether.
For instance, the Air Force is looking for the right location to instead take on a cyber operations wing to help bolster the military’s digital offense and defense.
“It’s something we’re going to need as we look at peer competition,” Nahom said.
Last November, the Air Force also made a preliminary decision to introduce the new MH-139 Grey Wolf helicopter’s formal training unit at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, starting in 2023. Maxwell is ditching its C-130H fleet flown by the Air Force Reserve’s 908th Airlift Wing.
MH-139s will replace the UH-1N Huey helicopters that protect nuclear missile silos underground in Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska, and can assist in incidents like search-and-rescue missions and emergency egress in the Washington area.
About 100 of the C-130H airframes that would remain in the inventory would receive upgrades to keep flying. Still, Congress has to sign off on the retirements for the plan to happen.
“The Air Force cannot successfully fight tomorrow’s conflicts with yesterday’s weapons,” the service argued. “It is imperative to invest in a modernized force that is relevant today and long into the future.”
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.