National Guard Chief Calls for More C-130Js as Fleet of H-Models Continue to Age

A crew chief and loadmaster of the Wyoming Air National Guard prepare a C-130H for a local mission out of Cheyenne, Wyo. Air National Guard photo by MSgt. Robert Trubia.

The Air Force needs to modernize its current C-130H fleet and buy more C-130Js as the current fleet of H-models, most of which are flown by the Air National Guard, are aging out and getting more expensive to fly, the head of the National Guard told lawmakers on Tuesday.

The fleet of 133 C-130Hs in the Air National Guard is getting older, and though there is a program to modernize the avionics and improve both the propellers and engines, there is a limit to the funding available for this effort and its impacts won’t last in the long term, Gen. Joseph Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. There’s no money in the current budget to continue propulsion improvements, though the Air Force had to ground some of its C-130H fleet to address propeller issues last month, Lengyel said.

Going forward, the Air Force and National Guard need to continue its modernization of the C-130H fleet and buy more C-130Js. The past three budget authorizations included approval for 16 C-130Js, but no more after that, meaning C-130Hs will continue their lengthy service.

“I believe, over time, as we continue the modernization process, … [USAF will have] to consider buying more J-models at some point in the future to continue the fleet,” Lengyel said. “It’s going to get older, and it’s going to need to be modernized.”

The fiscal 2020 budget does not include any funding more J-models, though the 2018 budget authorized eight C-130Js, with six approved in 2017, and two in 2016 for the Air National Guard. “This allowed us to recapitalize an older C-130 fleet,” Lengyel said. However, that progress will end if more aircraft aren’t added. The Air Force will decide later this year where to base the J-models already authorized once the planes become available in 2022.

Lengyel said he isn’t aware of plans to request more of the aircraft in future budget proposals, though he recommends more of these aircraft, because both the flying and sustainment costs of the J-models are lower and H-models will get “progressively more and more expensive to fly” as they age.