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LC-130H Aircraft At The Stratton Air National Guard Base Are Reaching End Of Their Life, With Some Up To Five Decades Old

Now, Senators Are Pushing To Get New Aircraft, Which Are Critical For Polar Research Missions With The National Science Foundation, National Security, And To Maintain U.S. Leadership In The North & South Poles

Schumer, Gillibrand: Landing New LC-130H “Ski-Bird” Planes At Stratton Is Vital To Strengthening The Schenectady County Base & America’s National Security

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced they are launching their push to upgrade the aging LC-130H fleet at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, one of the only ski-equipped heavy airlift aircraft capable of flying to the Arctic and Antarctica and a vital component of national security interests and research. The senators explained the aging aircraft are reaching the end of their service life, with some having been in operation for five decades, jeopardizing airlift mission success, safety of crewmembers, and the ability of the U.S. to compete in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Now, the senators are calling on the Air Force to recapitalize the LC-130H fleet to enhance military readiness, scientific research, and U.S. competitiveness in the polar regions.  

“The LC-130H ‘Ski-Bird’ planes at Stratton are unique and absolutely critical to our national interest in maintaining a critical presence and reach to the Arctic and Antarctic – but they are old and need replacing,” said Senator Schumer. “This limits our brave pilots’ and crewmembers’ ability to do their jobs and threatens our national security. That is why we are launching this push to get the Air Force to replace these aging aircraft. These planes are used in everything from polar missions to scientific research, and are essential for maintaining America’s leadership in the Arctic as we compete with countries like China and Russia. The Air Force must prioritize a new fleet of LC-130H planes for the safety of our military personnel and efficacy of this critical mission, and I promise to do everything I can to fight to land these planes right here in Schenectady County.”


“LC-130H ‘Skibirds’ are the only U.S. military planes capable of carrying out this Arctic and Antarctic mission set. This unique capability means that the LC-130H fleet – flown by our very own New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing – is vital to protecting our interests in the polar regions. These aircraft allow us to conduct polar rescues, assist with critical scientific research, and protect our national security interests in the Arctic and Antarctic. But these planes have reached the end of their lifespans, limiting our aircrews and risking American leadership in the Arctic. Today, I am calling on the Secretary of the Air Force to prioritize the recapitalization of the LC-130H fleet to make sure we can continue to conduct critical polar missions. I’m determined to get this done,” said Senator Gillibrand.

Schumer and Gillibrand explained these LC-130Hs are the only transport aircraft in the world that are capable of supporting airlift missions to the Arctic and Antarctica, but the fleet is falling apart as it nears the end of its service life. With the fleet having been in service year-round for more than 30 years, nearly all of the aircraft have parts that need total replacement, but the 109th AW can’t make the necessary fixes because the parts are not manufactured anymore due to the aircraft’s age and commodity. Although the airplanes have received upgrades, they are constantly suffering reliability issues and high maintenance costs to the extent that at any given time, only five planes out of the ten total in the fleet are mission capable. The senators explained that both the US Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which oversees the polar airlift mission, and 109th AW, which is responsible for polar science research missions and is the only U.S. military unit in the world that flies these planes, have expressed the urgent need to recapitalize.

The senators also said the LC-130 is a necessity for maintaining and strengthening the United States’ presence, operations, and research in the Arctic and Antarctica. The Arctic is a region of growing strategic importance, and to compete on a global scale, especially with China and Russia who are expanding their presence in the region, it is vital the U.S. has the advanced capabilities needed to expand its presence in the region.

Schumer and Gillibrand said if the feds do not take action soon, the fleet will not be able to operate for the long-term, which would have a dire impact on the United States’ ability to compete with China and Russia, who are establishing strong footholds in the North and South poles, as well as threaten the success of research and military operations in the region. That’s why the senators are calling on the feds to replace the LC-130H fleet so it can once again serve the U.S. needs in its full capacity.

Schumer and Gillibrand have a long history of advocating for the Stratton Air National Guard Base in Schenectady. In 2015, the senators ensured two C-130H cargo transport aircraft that had been slated for removal would remain in the Capital Region.

A copy of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand’s letter to Secretary of the Air Force can be found below:

Dear Secretary Kendall,

We write to you regarding the recapitalization of the LC-130H fleet. Flown by the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing (AW), the LC-130H is the only ski-equipped heavy airlift aircraft capable of traveling to the Arctic and Antarctica, and the 109th AW is the only US military unit in the world that operates these planes and supports the polar airlift mission set. However, as these planes approach the end of their service life, LC-130H operators and aircrew face a dangerous level of uncertainty during airlift missions. This uncertainty jeopardizes our ability to project power in the Arctic and Antarctic. Therefore, it is imperative that the Air Force recapitalize the entire LC-130H fleet in order to prioritize flight safety and ensure we can effectively meet the requirements of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Arctic Strategy. 

US Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which oversees the polar airlift mission, has expressed the urgent need to recapitalize the LC-130H fleet with the newer J model to be able to operate in the Arctic and Antarctic environments. NORTHCOM has also spoken to the unique capabilities that the LC-130H provides, as demonstrated by the 109th AW’s participation in annual NORTHCOM-led exercises such as Arctic Edge and Arctic Eagle. The 109th AW provides year-round logistical support for the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) polar science research missions in Greenland, Antarctica, and the Arctic, delivering 100% of the materials and equipment for the rebuild of the South Pole Station. These science support missions executed by the 109th AW in turn help enhance DoD’s polar mission readiness.

With an impeccable safety record, the 109th AW has executed these critical missions for more than 30 years, and New York is proud to serve as the home to this elite unit and one-of-a-kind capability. However, the majority of the existing LC-130H fleet were built in the 1970s, operate on technology developed in the 1950s, and as a result of being in service for all 12 months of the year, are quickly approaching the end of their service life. Although they have received upgrades, they are constantly suffering reliability issues and high maintenance costs. Additionally, nearly all of the LC-130Hs have parts that require total replacement, but—due to their age and being the only aircraft of its kind—many of those parts are no longer manufactured. With a mission capability rate of roughly 50%, it is apparent that modernization efforts alone are not enough to secure the fleet’s long-term sustainability.

Furthermore, it is important to recognize the national security implications of failing to recapitalize the LC-130 fleet. Amid rising global tensions and the rapidly evolving geopolitical landscape, the North and South Poles have grown in their strategic importance to the US’s ability to compete with Russia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), both of whom have expanded their presence in the polar regions. As the only ski-equipped aircraft capable of operating in Arctic and Antarctic environments, the LC-130 provides mission critical logistical support to regions that conventional aircraft cannot access. The LC-130 is a centerpiece of US efforts to maintain a strategic advantage in the polar theaters.

For all of these reasons, we urge you to prioritize the recapitalization of the LC-130 fleet. We look forward to your response and are prepared to assist however possible to protect this crucial mission and support the critical contributions of the 109th AW.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter. Please do not hesitate to reach out to our offices with any questions.