Gov. Brian Schweitzer, commander in chief of the Montana National Guard, and Attorney General Steve Bullock on Friday filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state of Montana to block the transfer of F-15 fighter jets from the Montana Air National Guard base in Great Falls to Fresno, California.
Bullock lodged the complaint in federal district court in Great Falls, calling on the court to immediately place a hold on the military’s plan to permanently transfer the 15 fighter jets out of Montana.
The state argues that transferring the 120th Fighter Wing’s F-15 jets would violate federal law which states that “no change in the branch, organization, or allotment of a unit located entirely within a State may be made without the approval of its governor.” Schweitzer has staunchly opposed the transfer, and therefore it should not be implemented, Bullock argues in the lawsuit.
“It is essential that the Montana Air National Guard retain the ability to carry out its dual role mission of effective response to domestic emergencies” Schweitzer said.
In DOD’s proposed re-alignments for 2013, the Montana Air National Guard was promised C-130 aircraft and a new mission well suited to its dual role to protect Montana citizens during times of emergency. However, the dramatic changes in the re-alignment proposal impact nearly every state and U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have each passed provisions intended to freeze all the equipment and manpower transfers proposed for 2013, including Montana’s C-130s.
It appears the Senate version of the bill (National Defense Authorization Act – NDAA – for 2013) would also freeze the long scheduled transfer of the F-15s but the House version may not. Until a House and Senate Conference Committee agree to a bill that does prevent the upcoming F-15 transfer, or causes the simultaneous transfer in the C-130 aircraft and personnel authorizations, the State of Montana is left with no choice but to act to prevent a mission gap that would leave the Montana Air National Guard at enormous risk.
“That is not acceptable,” Bullock said. “This move would cause irreparable harm to the operations of the Montana Air National Guard, to the morale of the Guard members, and to the safety and security of the state of Montana. We must do everything in our power to protect this mission and the people who serve it.”
“Not only would this move put Montanans at risk by exporting fighter jets out of state with no replacement, it would jeopardize the jobs of the dedicated servicemen and women who stand ready to carry out state and national missions at any moment,” Bullock added. “The National Guard is a critical component of Montana’s character and a vibrant part of our economy.”
Schweitzer, the commander-in-chief of the Montana National Guard, is the plaintiff in the case. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley are the defendants.
Approximately 800 Montana Air National Guard servicemen and women are directly tied to the 120th Fighter Wing. The loss of the F-15s could endanger the ability of pilots to maintain accreditation or gain specific training needed for the highly specialized mission. The impact of these jobs on the Great Falls economy was estimated at $66 million in 2011 alone. The Montana Air National Guard also spends roughly $15 million annually in fuel purchased from a local Montana refinery.