HELENA (AP) — The Air Force has chosen the Montana Air National Guard's base in Great Falls as the preferred location for a new mission as the home of four C-27J transport aircraft.
A final decision to locate the turboprop transport planes in Great Falls won't be made until June, after an environmental impact statement is conducted, the Air Force said in a statement Wednesday. If approved, the planes' expected delivery would be in 2014.
The Idaho Air National Guard base in Boise also was being considered for the new C-27J unit. Both sites were evaluated by survey teams before the announcement of Great Falls as the preferred location.
It would be the Air Force's seventh C-27J operational base. The C-27J's short take-off and landing capabilities give troops access to airstrips otherwise unreachable by fixed-wing aircraft, the Air Force said.
The announcement raises questions about the future of the F-15 fighter jet mission that has operated out of Great Falls since 2008. A Power Point presentation by Air Force officials to congressional leaders on Wednesday listed as a key finding that Great Falls is scheduled to lose its current mission.
That finding gave the Montana an advantage over the Idaho base because it would have more manpower to handle the new mission, according to a copy of the presentation provided to The Associated Press by Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg's office.
The Air Force has not publicly said it will move the F-15s out of state. Montana National Guard spokesman Maj. Tim Crowe said he had no information on the future of the F-15 mission in Great Falls.
There are more than 900 men and women with the 120th Fighter Wing and its 18 F-15 fighter jets, Crowe said. It was not immediately clear how many jobs would be attached to the C-27J mission, Crowe said.
But Rehberg said in a statement that trading one mission for the other would result in fewer jobs, and the loss of the F-15 mission would overshadow Montana landing the new transport mission.
"Montana keeps trading horses, and each time, we're a little closer to the ground," he said.
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said relocating the F-15s out of state would be an expensive move with no clear benefit to national security, while Democratic Sen. Max Baucus said military missions in Great Falls should be expanded, not just maintained.