Defense bill passes, clearing way for C-130H transfers to the USFS

Late Thursday night the Senate passed the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 84-15, which passed the House last week. President Obama has already said he will sign it which clears the way for the aircraft transfers we have written about previously. (UPDATE, December 27, 2013: the President signed the bill December 26, 2013.)

The bill contained provisions for the U.S. Forest Service to receive seven C-130H Coast Guard aircraft which will be converted to air tankers, in lieu of the C-27Js they had been expecting. It requires the Air Force to “promptly schedule” the “center and outer wing-box replacement modifications, programmed depot-level maintenance, and modifications necessary to procure and integrate a gravity-drop aerial fire retardant dispersal system in each such HC–130H aircraft”.

The Air Force will spend a maximum of $130 million of for all of the maintenance and modification work on the seven aircraft. The bill also specifies that no more than $5 million shall be spent on each HC–130H aircraft for the “gravity-drop aerial fire retardant dispersal system”. If the modifications exceed these limits, the additional funds will have to be provided by the U.S. Forest Service.

The Forest Service will also receive up to 15 C-23B+ S Sherpa aircraft which are expected to be used as smokejumper platforms. Earlier this week representatives from the USFS were in Oklahoma evaluating the Sherpas they were expecting to receive.

14 thoughts on “Defense bill passes, clearing way for C-130H transfers to the USFS”

  1. And so it begins….

    I have almost no faith that these C-130s will be ready for 2014 – but we’ll see. At worst, the USFS should have plenty of resources by 2015.

    1. Just read an article where the F.S. is doubling their air tanker fleet. So two plus two is four. P2’s leaving the stage, a few replacement air tankers in the future. For the C 130’s 2 or 3 in 2017. If no other airframe SUPRISES occur. In aviation we call this I.R.A.N, Inspect and replace as needed. Those aviation mechanics out there no what I mean by SUPRISES. (Leo).

  2. By then 2015 / 2016……

    It then MAY look like the 11 “promised” in 10,11,12 and 2013 without reaching out to the Canadians with fully qualified and operational tanker program

    Wait a minute…..did I say that?

  3. Where are the 7 CG c-130s coming from? I don’t see the CG having 7 excess c-130s. I’m assuming the c-27s will replace operational c-130s. Wouldn’t that mean that the c-27s will have to be modified(electronics, radar, paint) before replacing the c-130h’s after a transition process(flight/crew training, procedure development) before the c-130s can even go to the usaf for their mods.? Doesn’t this sound like at least a year or 2 before they are available?

  4. Obviously, nothing will happen fast. I do believe (hope) that this will make some more LAT’s available eventually. Add this to the Next Gen and Neptune contracts, and by 2016 we should have a decent LAT program. Off the top of my head, around half of what the reports guessed we need? As I add it up, 7 NextGen, 4 Neptune, 7 USFS makes 18, plus up to 5 additional aircraft if (1 per contractor?, as I read the prior information) the USFS decides to use them. How much longer will the Legacy aircraft be flying?

    It sure would be nice to know what has happened to all the other aircraft that were supposed to be available last summer.

  5. Nice to know….I agree

    But after all contract issues this past year…

    MONEY and reasonable contracts just might speed up the process, wouldn’t one agree?

  6. Yes Johnny

    I, like you and many others, know IRAN very well

    We will see the…….the USAF Depot folks will see whether or not the H models are economically repairable. I respect USCG maintenance, but salt water or wet environments………well you get the idea.

    Seven newer C130’s still doesn’t get you 22 aircraft unless everything “NextGen” is online and we all know that just is not true.

    Integrating a gravity drop ……ask Coulson….how long did the airframe work take?

    Now your Air Force Depot, I heard is not a 24 hour operation as of late and if you add a second shift to the mix with either contract or WG mechanics…….well you can bet that burning through 130 million won’t be a problem…..unless that has been all programmed in.

    We will even see if there is overtime to get these done….do not bet on it, tho.

    “Promptly schedule”….I suppose there is ” cultural pressure” that all the LMA’s preach about not putting pressure on pilots to fly unsafe or unnecessary missions or requests….but we now have an arbitrary “promptly schedule” hanging over another agencies head due to a requesting agency’s lack of motivation, lack of program planning ( over 60 years) of lack of funding and then rely on folks that introduce bills to, for lack of better terms, have DoD perform for some other agency (USFS) who lacked those performance skills and then relied on Senate and Congress to apply pressure to the DoD to promptly schedule the work, is what is amazing

    I hope, for USFS sake, there are no corrosion or other “aging aircraft” issues on the seven “H” models.

    1. Agree with Leo. I will be surprised if there isn’t any corrosion
      issues. USCG operates the 130 as a patrol plane and SAR
      platform. Low Level, saltwater environs. Say doesn’t the USFS
      have a collection of P-3s setting in the desert?
      S/ one other thing- if, say, a shooting war erupts- that IRAN program would get shoved back

  7. Two things:

    1) “Promptly schedule” does not mean “prioritize over USAF-owned aircraft” in the depot que. The AF’s C-130 depots are already tightly scheduled, and putting the CG Herks through the same lines will require some creative scheduling. I’m sure they won’t just put them at the end of the line, there’s too much political pressure. But, the AF will NOT add more shifts just to put seven tails through the line, and they have no interest in spending extra money on someone else’s airplanes. They’ll burn through the $130M, and then some, on just the mods. There won’t be any extra money to spend on added depot capacity.

    2) Once the first tail actually enters the depot, the overhaul and re-winging process alone will probably take the better part of a full year. THEN, they have to do the tank mod. Follow-on tails will take progressively less time as the maintainers get a handle on what’s lurking under the skin of those old airplanes and refine/tailor their processes to those tails. Still, it’s not going to be quick.

    Taking all of that into consideration, I expect the earliest you’ll see the first HC-130 on a fire would be late 2015 or 2016 (frankly, even that is optimistic), and at least another year before the whole fleet is fully ready.

    That said, I think those airplanes will be worth the wait.

  8. This transfer brings up a lot of questions.

    I wonder how the USFS will staff and manage these aircraft. Will they hire USFS pilots, mechanics, ground personnel? Will they just own the airframes but contract out all of the pilots, mechanics, ground personnel?

    Will they be controlled at the GACC level or higher?

    Will the USFS be able to “horde” them for their own use on USFS lands and refuse to fill tanker orders from outside the agency? I have personnally seen this happen with the sharing of contract aircraft between agencies.

    1. The airtankers will be considered a national resource; GACCs and the National Interagency Coordination Center ultimately control assignment of the aircraft to local units for fires.

      The hard part of the transfer process to the forest service will be the wait time to modify the aircraft.

  9. Good question

    One can assume there MIGHT be a plan……but knowing what has gone on in the past…….

    There are a lot of transfer questions that may need answering that will eek out in the future…..

  10. U.S. Coast Guard to start fighting forest fires. Federal air tanker fleet to double. Just a couple of “breaking” news articles I have ran across this week. I wouldn’t loose any sleep on where and when the transferred C 130’s will be ready to fight fire. Tanker 1 H a P2V-7 was operated (sort of) to the Forest Service. It sat on the ramp at Chico (Aero Union) for years. Finally it was to pressed into service in October 1977. Lots of maintenance work to get it ready. Fire season ended, pushed 1 H back to its resting place, the ramp. Any info on what happened to 1 Hotel? I remembered it had eight doors and had a tank capacity of almost 3000 gallons.

    1. I remember 1H and very interesting departure out of la Grande. I have had a few myself but tire tracks
      in the dirt is never good..this was late 70’s.
      This was before the runway was lengthened from
      “marginal” to “adequate” for tanker ops..

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