U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) recently joined a bipartisan contingent of more than a dozen of her colleagues in requesting that the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill includes language from the U.S. House of Representatives to ensure the nation maintains an adequate inventory of C-130 military transport aircraft.

“We write in support of House Section 1043, which would require the Air Force maintain a Total Aircraft Inventory of 292 C-130 aircraft in the final Fiscal Year 2021” NDAA, wrote Sen. Capito and her colleagues in a Nov. 11 letter sent to leaders in both Armed Services Committees in Congress. “As senators from states that have Air National Guard C-130 wings, we are deeply concerned by the effects a lower minimum number of C-130s would have.”

Among the 18 other lawmakers who joined Sen. Capito in signing the letter were U.S. Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Joe Manchin (D-WV), who wrote that their states’ Air National Guard C-130 flying wings provide nearly half of the U.S. Air Force’s tactical airlift capability. 

“As the Air Force proposes changes to align our force structure with the National Defense Strategy, it is vitally important we do not trade experience and knowhow in pursuit of expensive, less defined capabilities,” the senators wrote.

Proposed language in the U.S. Senate would set a minimum number of C-130 aircraft in the fleet by adopting a Primary Mission Aircraft Inventory of 230 aircraft, as compared to the 292 stipulated in the House language, according to their letter, which noted that the Senate language would not account for training aircraft inventory requirements or backup aircraft needed to support maintenance inspection and depot requirements. 

“This disconnect could hamper the [Air National Guard’s] readiness and training capabilities due to a potential lack of training assets and extended maintenance downtime,” the lawmakers wrote. “The House’s proposed Total Aircraft Inventory of 292 C-130s sets an aircraft minimum that accounts for all aircraft, including the training and maintenance needs of the C-130 fleet.”

The Air National Guard C-130 fleet has been the backbone of the nation’s tactical airlift capability for a generation, wrote the senators. “Hard choices will be required as we restructure the Air Force to face future foreign and domestic challenges. Therefore, we must make informed, data-driven decisions as we manage the C-130 fleet,” they wrote.