Great Falls Tribune: Montana leaders weigh in on Pentagon’s defense plan

Montana’s congressional representatives expressed concerns Thursday about Pentagon plans to eliminate a new cargo plane slated for the Montana Air National Guard in Great Falls and to consider further domestic military base closing in 2013.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other Pentagon leaders outlined a plan Thursday for $487 billion in defense cuts over the next decade. Besides big cuts in ground troops and slowing weapons purchases, they called for another round of base closures in 2013 and, in the small print, canceling the order for 38 C-27J transport planes.

The Montana Air National Guard has been slated to get four of the small, highly maneuverable transport planes as a partial replacement mission for its pending loss of its unit of F-15 fighter planes to the California Air National Guard in Fresno.

Pending completion of an environmental review, the transfer of F-15s is set to begin in August and be completed in March 2013.

Tester and U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., also issued news releases questioning proposed defense cuts.

Tester said he called Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt, director of the Air National Guard, to express concern.

“My message to the Pentagon has been clear for two years,” Tester said. “Any decision regarding the future of MANG must maintain a manned flying mission, and it shouldn’t result in fewer jobs in Great Falls. MANG must continue to play a critical role in defending this country and retain the outstanding airmen who serve there today.”

“The first step in re-examining our nation’s bases and military facilities should be to take a close look at the hundreds of overseas military installations we no longer need,” he said. “Our priority must be to strengthen our military at home, with a strong nuclear force, not to keep Americans taxpayers on the hook for Cold War-era bases overseas that no longer serve our security needs.”

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