The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is accusing the Air Force of politicizing the announcement of the bases that will house new aircraft ahead of two Senate runoff elections in Georgia.
The Air Force on Tuesday named four preferred locations for its Air Force National Guard C-130J main operating bases, and the Savannah Air National Guard Base was on that list.
The Air Force previously said it would choose three preferred C-130 operating base locations but then added the Georgia location, according to the National Guard Association of the United States (NAGUS).
“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," committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said in a Tuesday statement.
He continued: "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 added that the C-130 "force structure is still under deliberation as part of the National Defense Authorization Act and Defense appropriations conference process," and decisions "are contingent on whether Congress authorizes and appropriates additional C-130 aircraft not included in the FY21 budget request."
Air Force chief of media operations Ann Stefanek responded, telling Fox News that it added the Georgia location because it is preparing for Congress to appropriate funding for more C-130J aircraft.
"The Air Force evaluated all C-130J candidate locations against objective criteria based on mission requirements. The preferred alternatives were the highest-scoring locations based on that criteria," Stefanek said.
"The Air Force currently has 24 C-130Js requiring a basing decision for three locations. However, 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," Stefanek said.
Selected bases in Kentucky, West Virginia and Texas will each receive eight C-130J aircraft in 2021 while Georgia will receive the new planes if they become available in the future, Stefanek said.
Republican Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler – one of four candidates who will be on the state's runoff ballot in January – praised the Air Force's decision.
"As one of the most pro-military states in the country, this is outstanding news for Georgia and our military and coastal communities," Loeffler said in a statement. "The strategic location of the Savannah Air National Guard Base and the readiness of the 165th AW make Savannah the right place for these new C-130Js."
She added that she "will continue to work to ensure the Department of Defense and our service members have the resources they need to keep America safe as we face today’s challenges and the threats of tomorrow."
Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden, adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard, said in a statement that the state Guard was "honored" to be "selected as one of the Air Force’s preferred main operating base locations for the new C130J Super Hercules aircraft"