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Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS)

A C-130 with the 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard, drops water in the mountains east of Boise, Idaho as part of the annual Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System training and certification, April 21, 2017. More than 400 personnel of four C-130 Guard and Reserve units — from California, Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming, making up the Air Expeditionary Group — are in Boise for the week-long wildfire training and certification sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service.

A C-130 with the 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard, drops water in the mountains east of Boise, Idaho as part of the annual Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System training and certification, April 21, 2017. More than 400 personnel of four C-130 Guard and Reserve units — from California, Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming, making up the Air Expeditionary Group — are in Boise for the week-long wildfire training and certification sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service.

NEVADA AIR NATIONAL GUARD AND MAFFS

The Nevada Air National Guard’s 152nd Airlift Wing — which flies and maintains C-130 aircraft out of the Nevada Air National Guard Base adjacent the Reno-Tahoe International Airport — became the newest unit to operate the U.S. Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System equipment in 2016.

MAFFS equipment, loaded into the cargo compartment of a C-130 aircraft, can drop up to 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in six seconds through a nozzle on the rear left side of the plane. One U.S. Air Force Reserve and three Air National Guard units make up the Air Expeditionary Group, which supports U.S. Forest Service largescale, wildland firefighting operations around the nation. The U.S. Forest Service owns MAFFS equipment and supplies retardant, while each of the four military units provide C-130 aircraft, maintenance, support personnel and flight crews to fly the missions.

Given the military’s non-compete clause with private industry, private air tankers will receive first request for largescale, wildland firefighting. Military units have provided the surge capacity with MAFFS since 1974, but are only activated after private contractor assets are exhausted and the USFS deems additional support is necessary.

MAFFS can be activated through multiple government agencies: Department of Agriculture through the United States Forest Service, Department of Defense or the Governor of the states where the Air National Guard military units supporting the mission exist (California, Nevada and Wyoming); however, the typical manner of activation is through a Request for Activation, or RFA, issued by the Forest Service to the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

The 152nd, established in 1948 as a fighter squadron, has flown C-130 aircraft for more than two decades. The majority of its operations over this time focused on tactical airlift. After the 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard, announced it would convert from C-130 to C-17 aircraft, the National Guard Bureau announced in April 2016 that the 152nd would replace it as one of the four military units operating MAFFS.

In order for 152nd aircrew to become fully certified for MAFFS operations, aircrew must spend multiple years training and working with other MAFFS units. MAFFS operations pose several challenges for aircrew, given planes fly low, slow and heavy to drop retardant in hot, turbulent environments over large wildland fires. As of 2017, the 152nd is not certified for autonomous firefighting operations, but could be as soon as 2018.

Participating Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units include the 153rd Airlift Wing from Cheyenne, Wyoming; the 302nd Airlift Wing from Colorado Springs, Colorado; the 146th Airlift Wing from Port Hueneme, California and the 152nd.

In the past decade, military C-130s equipped with MAFFS delivered about eight million gallons of fire retardant on wildfires around the nation.

For more information, including photos and videos of MAFFS, please visit the Air Expeditionary Groups’ Defense Video Imagery Distribution System website here: https://www.dvidshub.net/feature/MAFFSAEG