Democrats say the timing of the announcement is questionable.
Not long after Donald Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and replaced him with ally Christopher Miller, the Air Force appears to have made moves to place a new fleet of cargo planes in Georgia that could benefit GOP Sen. David Perdue's runoff campaign.
The Air Force's "surprise" announcement this week happened just over two weeks after Esper's termination and Miller's subsequent helming of the Defense Department. Esper was part of a slew of other top-brass Trump administration exits after Election Day.
It's unclear whether Miller had a hand in the announcement, but Democrats say the timing of it is questionable.
Perdue, a Senate Armed Services Committee member, faces Democrat Jon Ossoff in the Jan. 5 runoff, as neither garnered more than 50% of the vote in the Nov. 3 election. The Republican senator on Tuesday applauded the Air Force's announcement that it would place the new Air National Guard C-130J Super Hercules aircraft at the Georgia Air National Guard Base in Savannah.
Perdue had sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett earlier this year, urging the Georgia base's selection for the new fleet, but it was not one of the final three bases that were selected to receive additional aircraft this year.
Democrats were quick to pounce on the news.
"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 decision from political influence," said Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, in a statement Tuesday. "While the rigor of the strategic basing process may support the selection of these four locations, the timing of the announcement raises serious concerns."
Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), chair of the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, also said in a statement Tuesday that he was "disappointed" and noted that the "critical aircraft" should be distributed "in an unbiased way."
Smith noted that Congress was briefed on June 25 about the three selected locations, but those did not include the base in Georgia.
"Now it appears the Air Force is deviating from the plan to announce an additional location," said Smith. "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."
The Georgia base was included in the eight originally identified in March. Officials, including Air National Guard director Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, said at the time however that evaluations of the eight bases would allow them to select three. "These (eight) states deserve a consistent, impartial, and apolitical process ... and that is not what they got, unfortunately. As I have relayed to senior Air Force leaders repeatedly in recent months, 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," Courtney said this week.
Retired Col. Pete Hoffman, executive director of Coastal Georgia Military Affairs Coalition, meanwhile, thanked Perdue, stating that the basing decision was "driven in large part by Senator Perdue in his role as a member of the Armed Services Committee."
"This is great news for the 165th Airlift Wing and for Coastal Georgia," he said.
Smith was unconvinced.
"The Air Force did not need to make this decision now – plain and simple," he said. "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."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.