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Under a provision in a military bill that President Barack Obama signed into law Dec. 26, the U.S. Forest Service will get 22 military aircraft -- seven HC-130H Hercules air tankers and 15 C-23B Sherpa cargo planes -- beginning this year.
The provision, authored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and John McCain, R-Ariz., requires the military to transfer the planes for use throughout the U.S. But they're likely to be used the most out West, where wildfires are on the rise because of tinderbox conditions caused by a prolonged drought.
The transfers come in the midst of a steady decline in the Forest Service's aerial fleet. The agency had 44 large tankers in 2002 but only eight in early 2013, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The Sherpa cargo planes would be used to drop "smoke-jumpers" -- firefighters parachuted into remote regions -- and transport personnel and equipment to and from fire zones, Karels said.
It's unclear how and where the Forest Service plans to deploy the 22 aircraft. The agency didn't respond to requests for comment.
McCain's office said at least two of the seven C-130s are expected to be ready for use this year because they don't need major modifications. The remaining tankers will be readied over the coming years. All 15 of the smaller cargo planes are expected to be ready for deployment in 2014. ... Read full article on News10.net
Awesome and much needed firepower (no pun intended)