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HELENA — Gov. Brian Schweitzer filed a lawsuit against the Defense Department on Friday to block any plans to take away the state's Air National Guard mission without a suitable replacement.

Attorney General Steve Bullock filed the complaint Friday in U.S. District Court in Great Falls. It asks the court to place a hold on the military's plan to transfer 15 fighter jets to California. It argues that the transfer would violate federal law that requires the governor's permission before the federal government can make a change in a state guard's organization.

Schweitzer, as commander in chief of the Montana Air National Guard, is the plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The Air Force has said it plans to replace the F-15 fighters with C-130s, but that move is the subject of debate in Congress and in Gulf Coast states that would lose the cargo planes. Both the U.S. Senate and House have passed bills that would freeze all equipment and manpower transfers for 2013, but the Senate bill may not block the transfer of the F-15s.

Until a House and Senate conference committee agrees to a bill that does prevent the upcoming F-15 transfer or causes the simultaneous transfer of the C-130s, the state has no choice but to act to prevent a mission gap for the Montana Air National Guard, the governor's office said.

"This move would cause irreparable harm to the operations of the Montana Air National Guard, to the morale of the Guard members, and to the safety and security of the state of Montana," Bullock said in a statement. "We must do everything in our power to protect this mission and the people who serve it."

Approximately 800 Montana Air National Guard servicemen and women are directly tied to the 120th Fighter Wing.

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