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Once again, plans change for C-130J fleet

The promise of the C-130J Hercules has been held over Pope Field for nearly a decade.

But the planes, the modernized version of the C-130 cargo plane, never came. Now, Fort Bragg stands to lose all its Air Force aircraft under a federal budget proposal for fiscal 2015 released Tuesday.

Under the Air Force proposal, the entire C-130H fleet would be retired.

Fort Bragg's 440th Airlift Wing has 12 C-130Hs. Without them, the unit would be deactivated, officials said.

Before the proposal was released Tuesday, Pope officials said they were prepared to receive newer, C-130J model planes from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., where the 815th Airlift Squadron is slated to deactivate in June.

And officials said the military has spent millions preparing Pope Field and airmen for the planes.

But the C-130Js are now going to be moved to Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., where a new airlift group will be activated.

The 10 planes from Mississippi had been slated for Pope as part of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. Delivery of the planes was to start in October 2013. But those plans were delayed and now appear to have been abandoned.

Instead, officials said the 913th Airlift Group would be activated in Little Rock, which is used as a C-130 training base by the Department of Defense.

The change has put the 440th Airlift Wing in an awkward position.

Under current law - the 2013 NDAA - the one-star Reserve unit is set to receive the 10 C-130Js to replace its current fleet. But based on the Air Force proposal, the 440th also must ready itself to be deactivated.

"There's a ton of uncertainty," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Jim Scanlon, commander of the 440th.

Scanlon said he is hopeful the decision will be reconsidered. But "professionally speaking," he said it would be hard to say if that is a real possibility.

"This is just a very small part in a massive budget," Scanlon said. "This is a tough fiscal environment. . I have no earthly idea, and I cannot predict what the outcome will be."

Scanlon said crews have been trained on the new planes, and some airmen are in the six-month training course required to operate or maintain the C-130Js.

"We could take them tomorrow," he said of the newer planes.

As early as 2005 - when Vietnam War-era C-130Es flew in and out of then-Pope Air Force Base - military officials announced plans to have the C-130J on post by 2007. That year, a $10.7 million hangar for the C-130J was under construction.

But the Department of Defense eventually moved those C-130Es, and the unit that flew them, the 41st Airlift Squadron, to Little Rock. It moved the 440th Airlift Group and their C-130Hs to Fort Bragg from Milwaukee.

Last year, officials again announced the newer planes would be headed to Fort Bragg, although preparation for the planes spanned much earlier and included $10 million in upgrades to Blue Ramp in 2012 and more than $56 million in upgrades and repairs to the Pope Field runway since 2011, although not all of the upgrades to the runway were directly related to the C-130J.

A building meant to hold a C-130J simulator is still under construction.

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