Montana Air National Guard officials are closely watching budget decisions coming from the Pentagon. Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced cuts in the defense budget amounting to almost $500 billion dollars over the next decade.
Of the long list of potential defense cuts, two points could impact the Montana Air National Guard facility at the Great Falls International Airport.
The first part comes from the cancellation of the C-27J Cargo Plane program. The Great Falls facility was slated to receive four of these planes. It’s just a small piece of the whole C-27 fleet, but these four planes could have been a saving grace for the Montana Guard. Great Falls is set to lose its F-15 fighter planes to a base in Fresno California. That would leave the base without an active mission. The C-27s would have helped fill part of the gap left by the F15s.
“With the announcements yesterday, it would appear that is perhaps no longer the case. But as far as to how it will affect the Montana air National Guard in the near future I really can’t say,” Crowe said, adding the base is still waiting on details.
Montana’s congressional delegation has been quick to condemn the defense department’s announcement. Democratic Senator Jon Tester said the Great Falls base needs to have a flying mission, one that does not result in fewer jobs.
“I think it’s critically important as we move forward that we continue to utilize the assets of the Montana National Guard in the defense of this country and their biggest asset is the people that work up there,” Tester said.
Democratic Senator Max Baucus focused his complaint on the other piece of the Defense announcement that could affect the base. In both 2013 and 2015 the military will consider closing down some bases across the country. Baucus said in a statement the military should first look at closing unnecessary bases overseas, particularly in Europe.
Republican Representative Denny Rehberg is criticizing the Obama Administration in the wake of the proposed cuts. Rehberg Spokesman Jed Link said President Obama does not understand how Great Falls Air National Guard base and Malmstrom Air Force base serve an important role for the nation.
“And just as importantly, the important role those bases play in the local economy and with jobs in Montana,” Link said.
The Montana Air National Guard will find out more precisely what these cuts mean for the Great Falls base when the President releases his preliminary 2013 budget on February 13th. That budget will then be approved or rejected by Congress.