Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:  Elton Gallegly
Date: July 18, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. GALLEGLY. Madam Chairwoman, my amendment will provide funding to the Air National Guard so it can obtain much-needed firefighting equipment so they can more effectively combat the devastating wildfires that destroy millions of acres of land and homes every year in the western United States.

The likelihood of calling upon MAFFS-equipped Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve C-130s has increased significantly. MAFFS are modular air firefighting systems that drop retardant to create firebreaks.

In 2003, the U.S. Forest Service had 44 fixed-wing aerial firefighting aircraft. By 2004, the number had dwindled to 19. And as of June 3 of this year, that number stands at only eight. An additional aircraft, on interim contract with the Forest Service, and air tankers borrowed from Canada and Alaska are being utilized to try to fill the shortfall.

While the Forest Service firefighting fleet has gotten significantly smaller, the number of wildfires have been increasing. In fact, in 2011, 74,000 fires burned 8.7 million acres. The most recent 10-year average indicates that the fires burned an average of 7.4 million acres a year.

As the fleet diminishes, stress on remaining aircraft increases. Further, the distance between fires and available aircraft have been increasing. The result is more fires burning out of control. Additionally, an increase of flight time and cycles contributes to an earlier demise of the remaining aircraft.

Only eight C-130s equipped with MAFFS units are equipped to supplement the Forest Service fleet. Even when all eight are called upon, the number of heavy air tanker aircraft is less than half that existed in 2003. We clearly need more aircraft, and the Forest Service is not likely to produce aircraft capable of meeting the need for the next 2 or 3 years, or probably longer.

My amendment will provide an interim solution to this problem by providing $8 million to the Air National Guard so they can make two existing Guard wings capable of operating and flying two legacy MAFFS, one unit each. That will give us four additional tanker aircraft to fight wildfires that have been ravaging the western United States.

My amendment will also appropriate $16 million for the Air Force to procure two new aerial dispersal units for use by the Air National Guard. Activating the legacy MAFFS units will help get more planes fighting fires this next year while these new aerial dispersal units are being produced and hopefully available for use within 2 years.

Our Nation desperately needs our aircraft to fight wildfires, and the Air Guard is ready to go to work. The U.S. needs more aircraft available to fight the wildfires that have ravaged Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah this season alone. I urge the support of my colleagues.

With that, Madam Chairwoman, I yield back the balance of my time.