Four more Air National Guard airlift wings are set to convert to new intra-theater cargo planes.
The Air Force announced Sept. 14 it has tentatively picked the 103rd Airlift Wing in Connecticut, the 120th Airlift Wing in Montana, the 133rd Airlift Wing in Minnesota and the 182nd Airlift Wing in Illinois to convert from aging C-130H Hercules aircraft to the more advanced C-130J Super Hercules.
The C-130J has a longer fuselage, more powerful engines and digital avionics, which enable it to fly more cargo faster and farther than the C-130H.
The J model also requires a crew of three airmen — two airmen fewer than on the H model.
The Air Force's selections are pending the outcome of environmental assessments at each location.
Each converting Guard unit will receive eight J models, but the Air Force didn't provide a timeframe for the change.
NGAUS believes it could be several years before the last of the 32 J models come off the Lockheed Martin assembly line.
Air Force officials considered eight Air Guard C-130H wings for the new aircraft.
According to officials, unit performance, existing facilities and environmental considerations were the final selection criteria.
Last week's announcement contributes to a relatively rapid — yet long overdue — recapitalization of much of the Air Guard's C-130 fleet.
In 2021, the Air Guard had 17 C-130 wings; 14 flew the H model, which needs extensive modernization, including new engines and avionics.
The active-component Air Force has operated nothing but J models since 2017.
Today, the Air Guard has 16 C-130 wings; six wings fly — or are converting to — the J model.
Georgia’s 165th Airlift Wing is the latest unit to begin the conversion to the J model. The unit's last C-130H departed Aug. 18, while the wing's first J model is set to arrive in December.
Arkansas’ 189th Airlift Wing, which the Air Force selected to be the Guard’s C-130J Formal Training Unit, is also scheduled to receive four C-130Js next year.
The Air Force provided eight aircraft from excess active-component stock for all of the conversions, but Congress, at the association's request, funded the rest.
Since 2017, lawmakers have added 58 C-130Js to defense appropriations, including 16 in each of the last two years.
The Air Force has never included a single J model for the Air Guard in the president’s annual budget request.
Elected officials, Guard leaders and unit commanders in the four states receiving the C-130J expressed elation at last week's announcement.
"What a gift it is to get this across the line for the next four Air National Guard wings receiving C-130Js," said Col. Rusty Ballard, the commander of Illinois’ 182nd Airlift Wing. "Now the real work gets started as the sequence of tails is determined for each base.
"And most importantly, how we continue to modify the legacy C-130H aircraft that will remain in the Air National Guard for years to come," he continued.
The modernization and recapitalization of the Air Guard's C-130 fleet is a NGAUS legislative priority.
— By John Goheen