Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee have lambasted a decision by the US Air Force to base new C-130J cargo planes at the Savannah Air National Guard Base in Georgia as ‘politicised’ ahead of the state's runoff elections that will determine control of the Senate, writes Defense News.
On 24 November, the Air Force picked four Air National Guard bases to receive 24 C-130J Super Hercules cargo aircraft, including the Georgia location.
Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith, D-Wash., cast doubt on the motives of Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, an appointee of the Donald Trump administration, for including the state in the list of venues.
“In this instance, the timing and decision to include Savannah, GA in the announcement, when Georgia is focused on Senate runoff elections, raises questions about the Secretary’s motives. The Air Force did not need to make this decision now… and should delay moving forward with these basing actions until conference negotiations have concluded and the decision is not at risk of being politicised,” he said.
After none of the candidates garnered the required 50 percent of the vote in the general election, both of Georgia’s Senate races were forced into runoffs.
Democrats would have to win both to wrest the majority from the Republicans, who have commanded a dominating 53-47 presence in the chamber – something that is seen as vital for whoever is president next year.
Senators confirm administration nominees, including the cabinet, and are endowed with the ability to either propel or stall an agenda proposed by the White House.
Ahead of the election on 3 November it was said that three or four seats would determine party control, depending on who wins the presidency, as the vice-president can break a tie.
Warning that the decision taken by the Air Force could potentially impact the Senate contests, Adam Smith added:
“If the Air Force plods ahead, the service runs the risk of undermining the strategic basing process and may force Congress to take action to protect the basing process from being used to potentially influence congressional action or election outcomes.”
Smith’s colleague, Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut, in a Tuesday statement similarly voiced his "serious concerns" about the Air Force's criteria for basing the new aircraft.
"To make matters worse, the Air Force without the slightest warning added a fourth site, assigning aircraft not yet approved by Congress to be based in Georgia… This surprise move was never once included in the Air Forces basing plans shared with our committee over the last two years, and it taints this process in the midst of a presidential transition and two special elections in Georgia."
“Questionable timing” and an “irregular process” were criticised by the Democratic Chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness John Garamendi.
According to the lawmaker, the Air Force proposal forestalled the outcome of continuing congressional negotiations regarding the terms of the annual National Defense Authorization Act.
"I strongly urge the Air Force to rescind this decision and delay this announcement until January. Doing so will allow the Air Force to make its decision until after conference negotiations have been completed and remove itself from the Georgia runoffs and other politically charged circumstances," said Garamendi.
On 25 November the Air Force announced that the Savannah Air National Guard Base was one of the favoured locations to house new C-130J military cargo planes, along with three other bases in West Virginia, Texas and Kentucky.
The Lockheed Martin-built planes, equipped with integrated digital avionics and state-of-the-art navigation, including a dual inertial navigation system and GPS, are improvements over the earlier C-130 variants they are set to replace, offering slashed manpower requirements and operating and support costs, the Air Force said.
An Air Force spokesperson was quoted by Defense News as claiming that naming "preferred alternatives" allowed to avoid procrastination over the launching of the ensuing environment impact process.
Georgia’s incumbent Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, facing re-election in the runoff, applauded the Air Force’s decision.
“These new aircraft will equip our Georgia Air National Guard with state-of-the-art technology as they support America’s global security interests,” Perdue said in a statement.