The Air National Guard's Role in Wildfire Emergency Response
Air War College Air University Maxwell AFB United States
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The US Department of Agricultures Forest Service is at a decision point with regard to its nation-wide large airtanker strategy for combating wildfires. The Department of Defense is also nearing a decision point for reallocation of capabilities within the Total Force. Both agencies are searching for the right mix of resources to effectively and efficiently meet mission requirements. Due to climate change and population encroachment into the wild land-urban interface, the threat of uncontrolled wildfire in the Western half of the United States is at an all-time high. Unfortunately, the ability of local, state and federal agencies to combat forest fires at initial stages is at a correspondingly all-time low. Therefore, this paper offers an immediate, sustainable solution for a whole of government approach to support the Forest Services large airtanker strategy. The approach recommended accommodates corporate and governmental needs, as well as justifying force reallocation within the Air Force by assignment of C-130 Air National Guard units, equipped with the MAFFS II fire suppression system, to the Western States that need them most. Aerial tankers provide the quickest means to suppress fires before they encroach on populated areas. States with C-130 MAFFS units could use these resources under Title 32 orders early in the fire season, and still be available to the federal inter-agency forest firefighting bureaucracy once federalized. As the Air Force redistributes roles and missions across the total Force, strong consideration should be given to assigning Western States at least one C-130 groupwing with MAFFS II firefighting capability and tasking.