Legislation introduced to transfer 7 C-130Hs to US Forest Service

The U.S. Coast Guard’s idea to give some C-130s to the U.S. Forest Service if the Coast Guard can get at least 14 of the Air Force’s C-27Js is gaining some traction.

Of the 507 amendments that have been introduced to modify the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (Senate Bill 1197), 8 of them are sponsored by Senator John McCain. All of the Senator’s lengthy amendments, covering many topics, have nearly identical language requiring the Department of Homeland Security, referring to the Coast Guard in this case, to transfer seven C-130H aircraft to the Air Force without reimbursement. Then the Air Force will be required to :

…perform center and outer wingbox replacement modifications, progressive fuselage structural inspections, and configuration modifications necessary to convert each HC-130H aircraft as large air tanker wildfire suppression aircraft.

The aircraft will then be transferred to the Forest Service to be used as air tankers, again without reimbursement.

If the bill passes and Senator McCain’s amendment remains intact, two big IFs, we assume that the USFS would use the C-130H air tankers as Government-Owned/Contractor-Operated assets, a new type of venture for the agency. CAL FIRE has been using this model for years with their fleet of 23 S-2T air tankers and it seems to work well for them.

(UPDATE 1-7-2014: The bill passed. Here is a link to the text.)

In addition, the McCain amendments require the Army to transfer, in FY 2014 without reimbursement, up to 15 Short C-23B+ Sherpa aircraft to the Forest Service to be used in fire management.

Apparently Senator McCain has given up on his previous proposal. In July of 2012, with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) he introduced legislation known as the Wildfire Suppression Aircraft Transfer Act of 2012 (S. 3441) ”to help replenish the agency’s aging airtanker fleet”. It would have required the transfer of 14 C-27Js to the Forest Service. The bill died, and since then the USFS has said they want 7 of the aircraft.

The Coast Guard would like to have all 21 of the C-27Js that the Air Force is giving away, but since Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made the October 28 decision to give seven of them to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), that left the USFS and the Coast Guard to fight over the remaining 14. In an interview we posted November 13, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp said they wanted all 21, but  ”…we are going to press ahead and get as many of those [remaining 14] as we can.” Then he floated the idea of trading their old C-130Hs for the seven C-27Js that appeared to be heading to the USFS.

The upgraded C-130H with the wingbox replacement and an Aero Union RADS 3,500-gallon constant-flow GPS-regulated retardant tank could be an excellent air tanker for the USFS. This is basically what Coulson has done with their Tanker 131, a C-130Q which is nearly identical to the C-130H.

Redding smokejumpers' Shorts 330 Sherpa
Redding smokejumpers’ Shorts 330 Sherpa. USFS photo.

If they receive them, the USFS could use the Short C-23B+ Sherpa aircraft for smokejumping and for hauling cargo. In 1991 the agency acquired six Shorts 330 Sherpa’s and has used them as smokejumper platforms. The 330s are similar to the C-23B+ Sherpa but have smaller engines and a lower cruising speed.

Coast Guard wants to trade with the USFS, C-130s for C-27s


The fate of the 21 almost new C-27J Spartan aircraft that the Air Force wants to get rid of is still not clear. On October 28 Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made the decision to give seven of them to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), but he has not determined the fate of the remaining 14 according to Pentagon spokeswoman Ann Stefanek. The U.S. Forest Service wants 7 of them for firefighting operations.

In the video above, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp said they wanted all 21, but  “…we are going to press ahead and get as many of those [remaining 14] as we can.” The portion of the interview in which the C-27J is discussed begins at 4:25.

Adm. Papp also broke the news that the Coast Guard is negotiating with the U. S. Forest Service to give them some old C-130s if the Coast Guard can get all 14 C-27Js after SOCOM takes the first 7.

Of course this throws a large monkey wrench into the Forest Service plans. But, the C-27J would not qualify as a next-generation air tanker since it could only carry 1,850 gallons of retardant according to a study that cost the agency $54,000. They want large air tankers that can carry at least 3,000 gallons, however there is something to be said about a mix of aircraft with their individual niche capabilities. A C-27J might be better used as a smokejumper platform, to haul cargo to fires, and transport two or three 20-person fire crews.

The Admiral did not say what model of C-130s the Coast Guard wants to get rid of, although he did mention C-130Js at one point. Nor did he say WHY the Coast Guard wants to get rid of the old C-130s (and get almost brand new replacement aircraft!). If they are low-usage C-130Js in good shape with lots of life left in them, the USFS could create a government-owned, contractor-operated large air tanker program. But Coast Guard aircraft are used in a maritime environment, much like the old P2Vs which were converted to air tankers, which could accelerate aging issues.

The text below is a transcript of a portion of Adm. Papp’s statement in the interview:

We were interested in getting our hands on all 21 of them. Special Operations Command I believe is going to get 7 of them and some number of aircraft were promised or at least directed to the Forest Service for firefighting.

It’s difficult for me to talk about the details of the negotiations right now but we’re working with the Forest Service to make sure that that is the particular aircaft that would suit their needs. We have C-130s that we can convert and turn over to them that might be better for them but we have staff that are working right now. Ideally out of the remaining aircraft we would like to get 14, that allows us to fully outfit 3 air stations and anything less than that, we would have to go back and really reevaluate the project… We are going to press ahead and get as many of those as we can.

In July of 2012 Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) introduced legislation known as the Wildfire Suppression Aircraft Transfer Act of 2012 (S. 3441) ”to help replenish the agency’s aging airtanker fleet”. It would have required the transfer of 14 C-27Js to the Forest Service. The bill died, and since then the USFS has said they want 7 of the aircraft.

C-27Js at Mansfield, Ohio Feb. 13, 2013. US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Harwood
Air National Guard C-27Js at Mansfield, Ohio Feb. 13, 2013. US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Harwood.

The report the USFS commissioned concluded the C-27J could carry 1,850 gallons of retardant if 3,200 pounds of unneeded equipment were removed, including flight deck armor (approximately 1,100 lbs), miscellaneous mission equipment such as litter stanchions, tie-down chains, ladders etc. (approximately 1,000 lbs), and the cargo loading system (approximately 1,200 lbs).

Smokejumpers could exit the C-27J through the two side doors or the aft ramp. Depending on how the aircraft was configured, it could transport between 24 and 46 jumpers. According to the report, the aircraft configuration can be changed and fitted with standard outer and center seating to accommodate 68 passengers with limited personal equipment plus 2 loadmasters. The maximum allowable flying weight for a hotshot crew is 5,300 pounds.

The study said the aircraft could carry between 12,222 and 25,353 pounds of cargo.

 

Thanks go out to Dave