By Chris Vaughn

FORT WORTH -- Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Reps. Kay Granger and Joe Barton promised a hangar full of National Guard troops Wednesday that they will continue their knockdown fight with the Air Force over plans to move eight C-130 Hercules aircraft from Fort Worth to Montana.

The trio, flanked by senior members of the Texas National Guard in a hangar at Naval Air Station Fort Worth, increased their rhetorical attack on the Air Force, asserting that service leaders put politics ahead of the needs of Texas and other Gulf Coast states that rely on the aircraft during hurricanes and other disasters.

Perry, himself a C-130 pilot in the 1970s, called the aircraft transfer "one of the worst ideas to come out of Washington in some time."
"With all due respect to our friends in Montana, this move just doesn't make sense," he said.

In its fiscal 2013 budget request this year, the Air Force announced that it wants to transfer the logistics aircraft from Fort Worth to Great Falls, Mont., and turn the Air National Guard's Fort Worth-based 136th Airlift Wing into a reconnaissance wing that flies MC-12 intelligence-gathering planes.

Nationally, the Air Force is proposing a major realignment to cope with upcoming budget cuts: retiring 286 aircraft, shutting down some squadrons and shifting some aircraft to the reserves. The Air Guard is absorbing the largest share of cuts and realignments.

The Air Force has said it needs to shift its C-130 fleet around the nation. Montana is losing its F-15 aircraft and would gain the C-130s. Montana politicians have said the state needs them to respond to wildfires and floods. Granger and Barton have said the state got what it wanted as a political favor for U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Democrats.

Maj. Gen. John Nichols, the adjutant general of Texas, said the Air Force plan "completely blindsided" him because no one at the Pentagon had indicated it might happen.

He called the proposal a "crisis for Texas" because it would dramatically degrade the state's ability to quickly evacuate people and deliver supplies before and after disasters, a major responsibility of the National Guard.

The MC-12s that would move to Texas are much smaller and are not as useful in disasters, officials said.

The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida have similarly opposed the move; they asked for help from the Texas National Guard during Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Gustav.

Moving the planes would leave no Air Guard C-130s in any Gulf Coast state, although Guard aircraft would still be in Arkansas and Tennessee.
"As long as these C-130s are in Fort Worth, they can be deployed anywhere in the Gulf Coast with something as simple as a phone call," Perry said, adding that it would take two or three days to get help from the active or reserve Air Force.

Granger, R-Fort Worth, gathered the signatures of the entire Texas congressional delegation -- two senators and 32 House members -- in a letter of protest to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley. Another letter was sent to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, asking him to step in.

She has pressed Donley and the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, in committee hearings and private meetings, to provide cost estimates for preparing the Great Falls base for the large aircraft and to train two wings on new aircraft.

The Air Guard has told her it would cost $75 million to $100 million, but the Air Force has yet to answer, she said.

"We've gotten not a response one," Granger said. "The Air Force can't make a national security argument or a disaster response argument for this."

If the Air Force does not provide a better justification for the expenditures, Granger said, she will work legislatively to make sure that "no money will be expended for this move."

Granger serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

"I don't want to do it that way," she said, noting that negotiations usually settle these matters. "But that's what I will do."