Proposed Legislation Geared at Transferring C-27J Spartans to the Forest Service

In June, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced S. 3441, the Wildfire Suppression Aircraft Transfer Act of 2012, which would transfer C-27J aircraft from the Air National Guard to the Forest Service. Last week, Representative Ken Calvert (R-Calf.) introduced a companion bill in the House, H.R. 6248 to provide for the transfer of excess Department of Defense aircraft to the Forest Service for wildfire suppression activities, and other purposes.

Despite the Air Force’s FY13 budget request proposing the cancellation of the C-27J program, all four relevant congressional defense committees have included language in their respective bills to restrict the Air Force from divesting the C-27J fleet from the Air National Guard. We applaud lawmakers decisions to ensure government procured aircraft do not go from the production line to the bone yard – as was proposed in the Air Force’s FY13 budget.

This broad Congressional support to keep the C-27J aircraft in the Air Force inventory makes the new legislation introduced by Senator McCain and Representative Calvert a head scratcher, as well as an area of concern. Why consider new legislation to divest the Air National Guard of a much needed airlift asset?

Though there are concerns with this new legislation, this is not to say NGAUS opposes any proposal to give the Forest Service much needed capability to fight wildfires. Rather we do not support C-27J aircraft being taken off of the National Guard ramps where they are used to fill critical missions, and given to the Forest Service without determining if they can afford to operate and sustain them.

NGAUS has always encouraged discussing the opportunity to create partnerships, in this case between the Air National Guard and the Forest Service, in which both entities can share aircraft to support their respective mission without having to bare the sole burden of operation and maintenance costs. This type of partnership would represent a responsible government approach for the taxpayer, our nation’s defense and desperately needed wildfire protection.

  • The C-27J is currently being operated by Air National Guard units in Mississippi, Ohio and Maryland. It is planned to be fielded to units in Michigan, Connecticut, North Dakota and Montana in the future. No similar airlift mission would replace the C-27J’s “last tactical mile” mission upon cancellation or transfer of the aircraft out of the Air National Guard. Currently the C-27J Spartan fleet is still grounded after the Air Force pulled the aircraft in order to investigate a flight-control issue. 

Tell us what you think - should the C-27s go directly to the Forest Service? 

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