CHEYENNE — Military leaders in Wyoming and elsewhere are calling on Congress to modernize the Air National Guard's C-130H fleet or risk grounding the planes.
The Adjutants General Association of the United States sent a letter last week to members of Congress. It urges them to approve several needed upgrades for the military transport planes.
The group says several communication and navigation modifications are needed to meet planned changes in regulations from federal and international civil aviation authorities. Those will go into effect in 2020.
If the upgrades are not completed by then, the planes will not be able to fly over much of the country and rest of the world.
This would impact the Wyoming Air National Guard base in Cheyenne, which maintains 11 C-130H planes.
"We are not willing to risk grounding our legacy C-130H fleet for non-compliance with mandated requirements ... and thereby risk the viability of our airlift wings," the adjutants generals' letter says.
"The prudent path instead is to allow for a cost-effective 'alternative solution' that can be quickly accomplished while preserving a realistic fiscal path to C-130J recapitalization."
John Goheen, spokesman for the National Guard Association, said there are at least two options for Congress.
Lawmakers could "recapitalize" the C-130H fleet, which means replacing the aging aircraft with a newer C-130J model.
Or Congress can approve the equipment upgrades to the existing fleet so the C-130H planes will meet the requirements by 2020.
"What concerns us is the Guard's ability to fulfill its Air Force missions and domestic missions," Goheen said.
The Institute for Defense Analyses estimates it would cost $3.15 billion to replace the fleet with C-130J models.
But it would cost much less - only $620 million - to upgrade the necessary avionics equipment for the C-130H models. This amounts to a $12 million savings per aircraft.
Goheen said moving to the C-130J models would be cheaper over the long run. But he said the Air Force has balked at the price tag.
That is why the Adjutants General Association is asking Congress to consider the less expensive option, Goheen said.
Wyoming is one of the 18 states with Air Guard units that operate the C-130H planes. The military transport aircraft are used both domestically and abroad.
In addition to overseas missions, the Wyoming Air Guard is able to deploy two modified C-130s for aerial firefighting.
Wyoming Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner was among the Guard leaders who signed the letter requesting Congress to approve the upgrades.
He could not be reached for comment on Friday.
In the past he has called for modernizing the Wyoming Guard's C-130H fleet, which is about 20 years old.
"It's time to start thinking about where our new aircraft will be coming from because you've got to stay relevant in this world or you'll go away," he told a Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce Meeting in November.
There are several legislative efforts to approve the avionics upgrades for the existing C-130H planes.
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has included language, in the 2015 Defense Appropriations bill, encouraging the Air Force to modernize the fleet.
And U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., is cosponsoring a bill in the House to require the avionics upgrades or alternative solutions by 2020.
"Wyoming's Air National Guard represents a critical component of defense and service capabilities for our state, the U.S. Air Force and our nation," she said in a statement.
"This legislation provides for an effective, more affordable path to modernize these aircraft and allows the Air National Guard to continue their invaluable service."