Gov. Brian Schweitzer told the Defense Department on Thursday that he will sue to block any plans to take the state’s Air National Guard mission without a suitable replacement.

The Air Force has said it is moving F-15 fighter jets currently stationed in Great Falls to California. The Air Force has said they would be replaced by C-130s — but the matter is also the subject of debate in Congress and Gulf Coast states that would lose the cargo planes.

Schweitzer, in an interview, said the lawsuit will be filed in federal court next week because he wants to make sure Montana is not caught in the lurch.

The governor said federal law requires a governor’s permission before the federal government can make a change in a state guard’s organization. He sent letters Thursday to both President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

“Montana’s situation is unique and I find myself faced with the necessity of using the authority granted me by federal law to ensure the Montana Air National Guard remains fully staffed and equipped while Congress sorts out the issues in the NDAA,” Schweitzer wrote. “I inform you of this situation in order that you and Secretary Panetta can review the situation and consider potential solutions to this impasse.”

The governor said he just wants to make sure the state gets the C-130s before it loses the fighter jets. He said the cargo planes are a fine replacement, and in many ways would be more helpful to the state in dealing with forest fires and other disasters.

Schweitzer said he believes the Air Force could start taking the fighter jet operation soon.

“I need to move fast so they don’t start taking equipment that is complimentary to the F15s, and taking it to California,” Schweitzer said about the injunction his office will file. “It will stop them moving a bolt, nut or even a Vice-Grip that has anything to do with the F-15s in Montana.”

Schweitzer said he believes several governors have successfully used the law in the past to block movement of guard units.


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