Four C130J Super Hercules depart Quonset Air National Guard base for an Operations Off-Station Trainer, Feb. 6, 2020, in North Kingstown, R.I.

Four C130J Super Hercules depart Quonset Air National Guard base for an Operations Off-Station Trainer, Feb. 6, 2020, in North Kingstown, R.I. Air National Guard photos by Staff Sgt. Deirdre Salvas

Dems See GOP Electioneering in Air Force Choice of Georgia for C-130 Base

A Trump appointee wants Air National Guard planes sent to the state that holds the key to Senate control.

U.S. House lawmakers are accusing the Air Force of trying to influence the two Georgia runoffs that will determine control of the Senate by announcing the Air National Guard could base new C-130Js in Savannah.

Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, questioned the motives of Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, a Trump administration appointee, for including Georgia as a possible C-130 base. 

“The Air Force has traditionally avoided making basing announcements near an election so as not to be accused of playing politics with force structure decisions,” Smith said in a Tuesday evening statement. “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.”

Congress has not approved the C-130s that would be based in Savannah, but has included the aircraft in legislation still being finalized on Capitol Hill.

The Air Force on Wednesday said the decision to select Georgia now was to save itself work in the future.

“[S]ince the Air Force is aware the House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill include additional C-130Js, the Air Force can leverage the exhaustive work already accomplished on the current C-130J basing process for a fourth location, Savannah Air National Guard Base,” the service said in a statement. “Naming the preferred alternatives now allows us to move forward with the environmental impact process without delay, enabling the timely beddown of these C-130Js.”

Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, Georgia’s incumbent Republican senators facing re-election in the January runoff, lauded 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. “As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and proud Senator for Georgia, I continue to focus on making sure our women and men in uniform always have the tools they need to carry out their missions, and that our state is at the forefront of that effort.”

Loeffler called the decision “outstanding news for Georgia and our military and coastal communities.” 

It’s common for Republicans and Democrats to lobby for military units — as Perdue and Loeffler did in a letter to Barrett in May — as they boost the local economy.

“Georgia will receive new aircraft if they become available in the future,” the Air Force said.

The Air Force also chose Louisville Air National Guard Base, Kentucky; McLaughlin ANGB, West Virginia; and Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Texas, for the new planes. Those states will begin receiving eight aircraft each in 2021, service officials said.

That’s not sitting well with legislators whose states were under consideration for the new C-130s. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said, “There have been serious concerns raised from around the country that the Air Force’s criteria changed during the latter stages of the evaluation process” for the bases.

“This surprise move was never once included in the Air Force’s 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,” Courtney said. “That frankly does not pass the smell test.”

The Connecticut Guard flies older C-130H cargo planes, which the Air Force has been slowly retiring, out of Bradley International Airport near Hartford, one of the bases under earlier consideration.

The J-model can climb faster and fighter, fly farther, and take off and land in a shorter distance than the H-model.