During Armed Services Committee Hearing, Rosen Secures Important Commitments from the Air Force for Increased Firefighting Capabilities, Consultation With Stakeholders on Public Lands Withdrawal

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen secured commitments from the Air Force’s Acting Secretary John Roth and General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., Chief of Staff of the Air Force, to consider upgrading the Nevada Air National Guard’s C-130H fleet with C-130Js. This upgrade would increase the Guard’s readiness and firefighting capabilities in Nevada and the western United States, where every year Nevada is plagued by devastating fires. Additionally, Senator Rosen secured a commitment to set up the Intergovernmental Executive Committee for the Air Force to exchange information and collaborate with local, state, and Tribal governments, along with relevant environmental stakeholders, on any future land withdrawal requests. A transcript of the Senator’s remarks can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found aquí.

ROSEN: The Nevada Air National Guard’s 152nd Airlift Wing in Reno flies its legacy C-130s in some of the hottest temperatures; you can just look at the weather report today. I don’t have to tell you all what’s happening out on the West Coast. They fly in the highest elevations and in the most challenging mountainous environments of any C-130 unit. Integral to their mission is flying the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) in support of the U.S. Forest Service. We know wildfire season is just upon us. 

Upgrading the Nevada Air National Guard’s C-130H fleet with C-130Js would have a substantial impact on their readiness and firefighting capabilities in Nevada and the western United States, where every year we are plagued by devastating fires. 

I was therefore discouraged that the Air Force was not considering MAFFS when evaluating base candidates for the C-130J, and even more disappointed when Reno was not selected. Ensuring that the Air National Guard is ready to assist and respond to these emergencies should be a priority for the Air Force as you consider where to base more capable aircraft.

So, acting Secretary Roth, can you please explain to me this decision not to consider MAFFS when conducting this basing evaluation, particularly on the West Coast where [we have] more fires, open terrain, and longer distances to travel than any other region in the lower 48? 

ROTH: Senator, we’ll take a look at that. I mean, your point is well taken. It’s not part of our core criteria that we use in selecting the base. My commitment to you is, we will work with you and see if there’s ways we can give that some consideration going forward. 

ROSEN: Thank you. I appreciate that. General Brown, can I get a commitment that MAFFS will be part of the basing criteria in a future round of C-130J recapitalization? 

Again, all I have to do is point to weather reports today around the West Coast and around the country to see what’s happening and then understanding what Nevada does and what we’re responsible for. We really need your commitment that Reno will be considered – given its need, mission, capabilities, and existing infrastructure to host the aircraft?

BROWN: Senator, you have my commitment to have that considered as one of the… as we’re looking for basing at decisions. 

ROSEN: Thank you. I would like again, General Brown, to talk a little bit about the Air Force and the NTTR, the land withdrawal that you’ve requested for the Nevada Test and Training Range.  

You requested a 300,000-acre expansion of the Nevada Test and Training Range within the Desert National Wildlife Refuge in order to modernize the range. You also asked for primary jurisdiction over the 800,000 acres of land currently shared with the Refuge. 

The FY21 NDAA renewed your existing withdrawal of almost 3 million acres of public lands, and [and included a provision] Senator Cortez Masto and I offered that mandates an Intergovernmental Executive Committee between the Air Force and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other allies and partners, to be sure that we’re taking everything into consideration. 

So, General Brown, as the Air Force pursues modernization of the range, can you commit to setting up our intergovernmental committees? And can you commit to exchanging information with all the collaborating, state, local, and Tribal governments, along with relevant environmental stakeholders, on any proposals to withdraw Nevada’s public lands? 

BROWN: Senator, you have my commitment. 

And I will tell you since our last conversation here about a month ago, we’ve already had some of the interagency committee meetings, working towards the intergovernmental executive committee, that first meeting should occur here in the next couple months. 

But I am committed to work with you and other entities too, as you work on the Nevada Test and Training Range to ensure we pay attention to all the equities of all the interested parties. 

BACKGROUND: Last year, Senator Rosen (D-Nev.), along with Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and then-Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), wrote a letter to Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett requesting eight new C-130J aircraft for the Nevada Air National Guard Base in Reno. Upgrading the Nevada Air National Guard’s C-130 fleet would help improve the Nevada Air National Guard’s readiness and increase their abilities to fight wildfires across Nevada and the western United States. 

In 2019, Senator Rosen joined Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak and the entire Nevada Congressional delegation in a letter asking then-Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett to consider transitioning the Nevada Air National Guard’s (NVANG) 152nd Airlift Wing (152d AW) to the C-130J aircraft during fiscal year 2020. In the letter to Barrett, the Governor and members of Congress highlighted the logistical, operational, and financial advantages of transitioning the 152nd Airlift Wing to this more capable military transport aircraft. Upgrading the 152nd AW’s C-130H fleet to the C-130J is a top priority for the Nevada National Guard.