The Maryland Air National Guard is set to lose its attack aircraft but should be getting its airlift capability back, officials said Tuesday.
The Air Force is planning to give the state eight C-130J Super Hercules turboprops, the cargo planes that Maryland pilots used to transport troops and equipment in Iraq, Afghanistan and natural disasters in the United States until 2011.
The planes are due to arrive in fiscal year 2018, when the guard is set to lose its A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft.
"Transitioning to C-130s will be an adjustment, but one we're well equipped to make," said Maj. Gen. Jim Adkins, commander of the Maryland National Guard. "Frankly, it's a perfect fit, given our track record of developing the J-model's flying procedures and being among the first in the Air Force to fly it in combat."
The move, outlined in the Pentagon's five-year budget plan, is subject to congressional approval. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said getting the C-130J back "has been a priority."
Maryland pilots logged thousands of hours in the C-130J in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also used the planes during the response to Hurricane Katrina, California wildfires and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
The return of the plane would restore Maryland's ability to transport troops and equipment by air. The 175th Wing of the state Air Guard transitioned from the C-130J to the smaller, faster C-27J Spartan in 2011. The Air Force divested itself of the C-27J in 2013, leaving the state without an airlift aircraft.
Officials said the return of the C-130J would "help mitigate any loss of jobs" that might result from the loss of the Cold War-era A-10.
The Maryland Guard has flown the A-10 — a snub-nosed, close-support attack aircraft known as "the warthog" — since the late 1970s. The Air Force plans to retire the A-10 in favor of the more versatile F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
twitter.com/matthewhaybrownCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun