The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) has raised concerns over the Air Force’s timing of an announcement to base new C-130Js in Georgia, criticizing the move as potentially having influence over the state’s upcoming Senate runoff elections. 

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said the decision to include Savannah Air National Guard Base as one of four preferred locations for Air National Guard C-130J main operating bases could be seen as politically motivated and preempting Congress’ final budgeting decisions on how many sites will be required.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee

“I am disappointed that the Air Force rushed today’s announcement, a decision that could mar the service’s historically repeatable, transparent, and deliberate strategic basing process, which until now has helped insulate basing decisions from political influence. While the rigor of the strategic basing process may support the selection of these four locations, the timing of the announcement raises serious concerns,” Smith said in a statement.

Along with Georgia, the Air Force said it selected Louisville Air National Guard Base in Kentucky, McLaughlin ANGB in West Virginia and Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, Texas as the preferred locations to receive C-130Js.

“Kentucky, West Virginia and Texas will begin receiving eight aircraft, each in 2021. Georgia will receive new aircraft if they become available in the future,” the service wrote in a statement.

Georgia is set to hold two runoff elections on Jan. 5 that will decide control of the Senate in the next Congress, with Senate Armed Services Committee member David Perdue (R-Ga.) facing Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) up against Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock.

In May, Perdue and Loeffler sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett urging the service to consider Savannah as a location to house new C-130Js. 

“This is extremely exciting news for Savannah’s Airmen and the entire coastal community,” Perdue said in a statement on Thursday. “We’ve made it a top priority to modernize and upgrade military equipment in order to preserve our competitive advantage around the world, and the 165th Airlift Wing is a critical component of that effort. These new aircraft will equip our Georgia Air National Guard with state-of-the-art technology as they support America’s global security interests.”

Loeffler also cited “the strategic location of the Savannah Air National Guard Base” and called Georgia “one of the most pro-military states in the country.”

Smith noted that future C-130 force structure and appropriations decisions are still being deliberated, adding the officials told Congress in June the service was considering selecting three locations and “now it appears the Air Force is deviating from the plan to announce an additional location.”

“Congress has not even decided whether to fund the additional aircraft that would justify a fourth site, and the Air Force is already deviating from their previously articulated preference,” Smith said. “The Air Force did not need to make this decision now – plain and simple – and should delay moving forward with these basing actions until conference negotiations have concluded and the decision is not at risk of being politicized. 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.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the HASC ranking member, said recently the political implications of the Georgia runoffs could delay passage of the next NDAA (Defense Daily, Nov. 17).