Democrats Criticize Air Force Bid to Base New Aircraft in Georgia Ahead of Senate Races

Three top Democratic lawmakers criticized the U.S. Air Force this week after it proposed basing new military aircraft at the Savannah Air National Guard Base in Georgia, ahead of the state's crucial Senate runoff elections.

The representatives said the move threatened to impact on the Senate contests in less than two month's time, and could also prompt Congress to "take action" over the process to help ensure it did not alter election results.

The Air Force announced on Wednesday that the Savannah Air National Guard Base was one of its favored locations to house new C-130J military transport planes, along with three other bases located in West Virginia, Texas and Kentucky.

It said bases were only evaluated on "objective criteria based on mission requirements."

House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith
Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) arrives for a House Armed Services Committee hearing on July 9, 2020 in Washington, DC. Getty Images/Greg Nash-Pool

Releasing a statement on the Air Force proposals, House Armed Services Committee Chair Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) said the Air Force "did not need to make this decision now" and called for the move to be delayed so it was "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," the Democratic lawmaker added.

His colleague Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut also took issue with the air force announcement, saying in a Tuesday statement that he had "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," he added. "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."

The Democratic Chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness John Garamendi said the Air Force proposal preempted the outcome of ongoing congressional negotiations over the terms of the annual National Defense Authorization Act.

The California lawmaker added: "The questionable timing and irregular process has undermined my confidence that this decision was made objectively and without political influence.

"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."

Newsweek has contacted the U.S. Air Force for comment. This article will be updated with any response.

An Air Force spokesperson told Defense News on Wednesday night that naming "preferred alternatives" allowed the force to start the environment impact process without delay.

"Since 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 spokesperson also told Defense News.

Georgia's Senate runoff elections are slated for January 5, with Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue defending their seats, and the Republican majority in the upper chamber, against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

Two opinion polls released in the weeks since the November 3 elections have shown the GOP senators ahead of their rivals by slim margins, while an InsiderAdvantage poll put the candidates at statistical ties.