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Governor drops lawsuit over F-15 transfers

HELENA — The governor on Monday dropped Montana's lawsuit against the Defense Department over plans to move the Montana National Guard's F-15s to California since the administration has postponed the cost-cutting initiative behind scheduled aircraft transfers.

The move came after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta assured the state's senators last month that the Air Force will halt scheduled transfers of National Guard planes until Congress finalizes 2013 budget plans later this year that could prevent those transfers.

The transfers had worried leaders in several states that could potentially lose aircraft used by their forces. The aircraft missions also come with full-time jobs in each of the states. About 800 Montana Air National Guard servicemen and women are directly tied to the 120th Fighter Wing.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer filed court documents in Great Falls federal court dropping the state's lawsuit over the matter.

He previously argued that federal law requires the permission of a state's governor prior to changing the organization of a guard unit located within that state. Attorney General Steve Bullock had agreed, and filed the lawsuit naming Schweitzer as the plaintiff.

Schweitzer said the suit is no longer necessary now that the Defense Department says it will stick with plans to replace the F-15s with C-130 cargo planes. The governor says he can re-file the lawsuit if Air Force plans change.

"It is essential that the Montana Air National Guard retain the ability to carry out its dual role mission of effective response to domestic emergencies," Schweitzer said in a release.

U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Democrats, have said the Defense Department's assurances on the matter came as a result of their negotiations that resulted in a change of policy.

" Jon and I were proud to lock in the F-15 mission in June and together, we're rolling up our sleeves to make sure the C-130 mission arrives on Gore Hill as planned," Baucus said in a statement.

The issue is likely to remain embroiled in political disputes as the Defense Department looks to cut costs. The Defense Department wants to move the cargo planes destined for Montana from Texas — a suggestion that has drawn the ire of Gulf Coast state leaders.


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