WASHINGTON -- Military officials have picked the Arkansas Air National Guard's 189th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base to house the Air National Guard's C-130J Super Hercules training program, members of the all-Republican Arkansas congressional delegation said Friday.
The decision was made as other Air National Guard units are losing their flying missions, said U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Little Rock.
"It's huge news. ... It's hard to overstate the impact," he said. "I'm delighted for our airmen, our Air Force base and our state. We're going to have this man-flying mission for decades to come."
While military brass have selected Arkansas, the decision will need final approval from Air Force secretary nominee Frank Kendall, assuming he is confirmed.
Cotton said he has spoken with Kendall about the assignment and doesn't anticipate there being any problems.
"These kind of decisions go through very rigorous analytical processes," he said. "It would be unusual for the secretary of the Air Force to make a different decision."
Initially, as many as four C-130J Super Hercules will be headed to Central Arkansas, Cotton said.
The first two of the aircraft are expected to arrive in the summer of 2023.
Eventually, the 189th Airlift Wing will receive a dozen of the modern military transport planes, as the older model C-130s are phased out.
"I'm very happy to see that the Air Force recognizes the vital role that our airmen, in and around Central Arkansas, plays in our defense," Cotton said.
Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville already is home to the 314th Airlift Wing, described by the Air Force as "the nation's tactical airlift 'Center of Excellence.'" It trains C-130J aircrew members for the Defense Department and the Coast Guard, as well as pilots from 47 allied nations.
The 189th Airlift Wing teaches pilots to fly C-130H aircraft, an older, slower plane. The C-130J, which debuted in 1999, can fly faster and farther with a smaller crew while carrying more cargo. The C-130 Hercules has been a workhorse for more than a half-century.
Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he had encouraged military officials for years to select Arkansas for the Air National Guard training program. Other members of the delegation were making similar efforts, he said.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies subcommittee, portrayed it as a unified effort.
"When it comes to Arkansas, the delegation comes together, pulls together. Totally," he said in an interview Friday. "I think it's really been very successful as a result."
Arkansas will benefit not only from the military hardware but also from the caliber of people the base attracts, the lawmaker from Rogers said.
"The workforce there is as good as any in the country. They do a tremendous job. So it's not only good for the economy, it's not only good for Arkansas, it's good for the entire country," Boozman said.
In written statements, other Arkansas officials also welcomed the news.
"Arkansas proudly boasts a long history of supporting initiatives critical to our nation's common defense," said U.S. Rep. Steve Womack. "I'm proud that the Natural State will be hosting C-130Js now and into the future."
The lawmaker from Rogers, who serves on the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, said he will continue working with the rest of the delegation "to secure missions that serve America's security needs."
U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock said the base is "one of the most technologically advanced and well-run military installations in the world."
"I'm thankful to my colleagues and the United States Air Force for their work to make Central Arkansas the continued home of C-130 training, and I'm confident in the program's contribution to supporting the most well-trained, efficient, and effective military force in the world," he said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was "delighted" by the selection.
"I know our federal delegation has worked hard on this recommendation, and I applaud their efforts," he said. "This recommendation is a recognition of the outstanding performance record of the Little Rock Air Base and the men and women who carry out the critical mission for our nation's defense."
The news also was welcomed by the person in charge of commanding the Arkansas Air and Army National Guard.
"We're excited about the Air Force's decision to base four C-130Js with the 189th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville," said Maj. Gen. Kendall Penn, Arkansas' adjutant general. "The aircrews and maintenance personnel in the 189th are second to none, and they have an exceptional flight safety record. They've been training C-130 aircrews since 1986 and are internationally recognized as experts in the field."
Information for this article was contributed by Hunter Field of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.