Commander's comments on MAFFS II fielding

On Jan 30, with well-deserved fanfare at McClellan Air Park, Calif., the California Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing rolled out an upgrade to the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) that will be used to battle the nation's wildfires this season.

The MAFFS II capability was approved for use in the wing's C-130J Hercules cargo aircraft and allows the California Air National Guard to provide significant aerial fire fighting capability around the country for the 2009 wildland firefighting season.

MAFFS are owned by the U.S. Forest Service, managed by the National Interagency Firefighting Center and flown on Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve C-130 aircraft.

U.S. Northern Command, the National Guard and Air Force Reserve wings, the governors, and firefighting and federal agencies team up to operate MAFFS nationwide during wildfire responses. The aircraft and air crews are always ready to deploy in anticipation of a state emergency, which is very heartening to me as a commander responsible for assisting local and state first responders during a wildland firefighting emergency.

According to officials who operate these systems, the MAFFS II is capable of dropping a more effective wildfire retardant line and is thus more efficient. And the addition of these assets for airborne firefighting is especially good news in light of recent predictions coming out of California, where officials believe the state is in for its worst drought in modern history (USA Today, Jan. 30, 2009) and water is expected to be in short supply due to an almost 40-percent drop in the State's normal snowpack this winter (San Jose Mercury News, Jan. 29, 2009).

To clarify our role, military (DoD) support for wildfires is provided when requested by the National Interagency Firefighting Center (NIFC) for wildfire support and approved (by the Secretary of Defense). USNORTHCOM then provides operations coordination of these MAFFS-capable aircraft.

In addition to the C-130Js in California, there are two C-130s available from the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., two with the 153rd Wyoming Air National Guard and two with the North Carolina Air National Guard's 145th Airlift Wing available for fighting wildfires around the nation should DoD support be necessary.

With the 2009 wildfire season officially starting in spring and continuing through the fall, I am grateful to the men and women who worked so hard to bring the new MAFFS II capability on line ahead of the wildland firefighting season's start.