ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — The need for a next-generation aircraft to further the mission of the Air National Guard base in St. Joseph got placed in front of the top officer in the Air Force this week.
Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill on Thursday. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a committee member, questioned him about plans for bringing a C-130J to the 139th Airlift Wing at Rosecrans Memorial Airport.
“You can’t update everybody and expect the Guard to be what it needs to be if they don’t get the updated J model,” the Democratic senator told the general. “Is it possible that you can figure out a way to get at least one J model to St. Joseph fairly quickly so they won’t have a real problem in terms of their training mission?”
The questions follow up on a visit she and her Missouri colleague, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, made to St. Joseph on March 20 to gather information about the Air Guard mission at Rosecrans.
The Advanced Airlift Tactics Training Center at Rosecrans brings in pilots and crews from around the United States and throughout the world.
“One of the reasons that is a cost effective base for the National Guard and for our nation’s military is because of the training that they’re providing, and getting revenue for, to many pilots from across the world,” Ms. McCaskill said.
“And if they don’t get a 130J, then those countries are no longer going to come to get trained at St. Joseph.”
The C-130J, manufactured by Lockheed Martin and known at the “Super Hercules,” would provide an advanced craft to the C-130 fleet at the local Air Guard base.
Mr. Welsh, a four-star general, said the Air Force has under way a long-term C-130 modernization plan for all components of that service branch.
“By 2019, we will actually have four locations where there are J models in the active force and four locations where we have J models in the reserve components, three in the Guard and one in the Reserve,” the general said.
With that plan in place, another problem exists, Mr. Welsh said.
“We don’t have that many J models coming off the production line over the next four or five years to dramatically alter the numbers going into place in the reserve component,” he added.
Ms. McCaskill responded, “I just know that because of the training mission (in St. Joseph) for our allies, I would hope that they would be at or near the top of the list in terms of receiving the J model.”