Forest Service cancels procurement of new air tanker

The U.S. Forest Service has canceled the solicitation issued on November 18, 2016 for the acquisition of one to seven new multi-engine air tankers. It was thought by some that this procurement would spend the $65 million appropriated by Congress in December, 2014 “for the purpose of acquiring aircraft for the next-generation airtanker fleet to enhance firefighting mobility, effectiveness, efficiency, and safety…”.

The specifications appeared, after a brief perusal, to fit a C-130-type aircraft, including Lockheed Martin’s new LM-100J, a demilitarized version of the C-130J that is rumored to sell, when it becomes available, for about $65 million.

Lockheed's LM-100J
Lockheed Martin’s LM-100J. An artist’s conception of it using a slip-in MAFFS to dispense fire retardant. Lockheed image.

When we inquired about the reasons for the cancellation and the plans for spending the appropriated $65 million, USFS spokesperson Jennifer Jones said the only information available was:

The U.S. Forest Service is reviewing its requirements for the airtanker.

With the reports in the national news since January 20 about massive budget cuts for federal agencies, it is not surprising that this aircraft would be axed. The fact that the official word from the USFS is they are “reviewing [their] requirements” looks like they are hesitant to own an action that would reduce planned spending for homeland security, in the form of support for firefighters.

10 thoughts on “Forest Service cancels procurement of new air tanker”

  1. Now it’s time to cancel the existing FS C130 program as well. Complete waste of time, money, energy, and human resources.

      1. You say that as though they are providing services now which they’re really not. It has been a catastrophe. So…Private industry aircraft of course. Existing and future airframes work great.

  2. Private industry is the only solution. FS will take 5 times as long to get a airplane online as the private industry. Coulson, AeroFlite and Neptune all have the ability and plans to have more aircraft available into the future. And with plans for advancements…Coulson 737 for example.

  3. Does this mean the cancellation of the ex-CG Hercs that are in process??? Hercs with gravity systems would be better option than more “passenger jets” Coulsons T-134 is here at IWA in the IAR shop. Good idea. A fleet of rblt Hercs could be approximate replacement for the Orions that the Pilots liked. VLAT drops are “high” If I was young enough to be out there on an Engine Crew again, would rather have Stoofs or Hercs over my head than a passenger jet that might suck fod and crash. fortunate the MD87 flame-outs haven’t killed anyone yet.

    1. My understanding is this is a separate line item, completely different than converting the ex-USCG aircraft. This was intended, as I understand, to purchase an additional airframe.

      Obviously, nobody has been impressed with the progress the USFS has made, but I also think that to further the idea of having multiple sources of aircraft is prudent. i suspect that eventually, the Forest Service program will become a GOCO model, like CalFire. Obviously, you could point to the success that Coulson has had with the Type and suggest they would be a prime candidate.

      Frankly, I will be surprised if they don’t end up involved in the conversion to a gravity tank, at the very least.

      1. Gordie is correct. In December, 2014 as part of a military funding bill, Congress appropriated $65 million specifically for the USFS to purchase a new air tanker. The funds still have not been spent.

        The conversions of the seven former Coast Guard HC-130H aircraft have been slowed by the Air Force dragging its feet in performing the required heavy maintenance and their cancellation of the contract they had awarded for installing the retardant delivery systems.

    2. Tony, can you expand upon the reasons for your preference for having turboprop aircraft overhead rather than turbofan aircraft? What sources are you consulting to conclude that jet engines “suck fod and crash” at a rate any different than prop aircraft?

      1. The very fact that the MD87s had stand-downs due to FOD issues is part of it. The Brit-jets seem to be doing ok. I’m talking about the large Passenger aircraft that some like. They are NOT designed for the flight envelopes often needed on fires. A monsterjet dropping a mile-long drop from 400 ft alt looks good on TV. But mud disperses, leaving thin line that burns through. The Target alt for drops by the Green Stoofs that flew over my head was 100 to 150ft. VLATs cant achieve that, even if the “rules” didn’t keep them at the higher 400ft alt. Hercs with gravity-systems can outperform the monsterjets in accuracy and lower cost-per-hour. The current policy of using the 10s as everyday heavies is costing the taxpayers a lot of $$$. Forget how many thousands an hour 10 Tanker is getting–both 911 and 912 have made multiple cycles to the Cajete in NM from IWA, 55 min transits/time-on-fire/55min back/20-30min reload and refuel/then the 55min back. 2.5 hrs b4 back-to-fire. Not efficient. But shortage of resources make the use of them necessary. Sure do miss those P3s.

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