Opinions and Speeches

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Telegraph: Robins Air Force Base Critical to National Security

Published in The Telegraph, Macon, Ga.

By U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

Robins Air Force Base is home to the Air Logistics Complex, Air Force Reserve Command, the 78th Air Base Wing and the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System Wings (JSTARS) and plays a vital role providing support to all branches of the military throughout the world. As one of the Air Force’s three depots, the Robins Air Logistics Complex is routinely recognized as the best in the nation. Its ability to perform maintenance on time and within budget directly impacts our military’s ability to project power around the world.

Central to the base’s national security role is the E-8 JSTARS. This critical platform’s battle management and intelligence capabilities are unmatched by any of our military adversaries. In the fight against global terrorism, our ground forces have benefitted greatly from JSTARS’ surveillance capabilities.

In recent years, we have worked to ensure that JSTARS remains in service for the sake of our future national security. As a long-serving air platform with more than 1 million flight-service hours, JSTARS is becoming increasingly more relevant to combating future adversaries, and this aging fleet of aircraft is in critical need of recapitalization.

In December, U.S. Representatives Sanford Bishop and Austin Scott, as well as U.S. Senator David Perdue and I held the third annual Robins Air Force Base Congressional breakfast in Washington, D.C., where we welcomed leaders of Robins Air Force Base and the surrounding community to our nation’s capital. This event has become a key event for the defense community as well, and U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson delivered keynote remarks at this year’s breakfast. This type of direct, in-person advocacy has helped make the case to the Air Force of the critical need to recapitalize the investment of JSTARS.

I was disappointed when the Air Force last year announced its intent to begin searching for alternative intelligence and surveillance platforms rather than continue its investment in the ongoing recapitalization effort. Without a viable alternative for JSTARS, this move would be ill-advised and would have a direct impact on our combatant commanders who depend on this vital platform in combat. I will use every method at my disposal to fight against this plan to abandon JSTARS without a mission-ready alternative to meet the operations requirements of our warfighters in the battlefield.

Fortunately, after years of continuous efforts, the government funding bill that was signed into law on March 23 provides $405 million in specific funding directly for the recapitalization of the JSTARS platform.

Further, the funding bill prevents the secretary of the Air Force from transferring or utilizing those funds for any purpose other than JSTARS recapitalization, unless the defense committees in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate approve a reprogramming request.

These are important victories in our long-term quest. More importantly, this is a win for our warfighters who rely on JSTARS’ capabilities to combat terrorism and defend our nation.

As we move forward, you can rest assured that I will continue working with my colleagues to ensure that the next two crucial legislative measures – the fiscal year 2019 national defense authorization legislation and the defense appropriations bill – will continue to provide the necessary funding needed to recapitalize this vital asset and prevent its early retirement without a viable alternative.

Our warfighters depend on this full suite of capabilities JSTARS provides, and we owe them the best that we can provide today. For us to fail would be bad for our warfighters, bad for our security and bad for our country.

Meanwhile, I will continue to work with the Air Force to determine the best way to modernize these capabilities for the 2040 fight and beyond.

Few understand the long and storied history Robins Air Force Base has played in our country’s national defense better than the Middle Georgia community where it’s located. Along with the entire Georgia congressional delegation, I am proud to do all I can in Washington to support this vital installation.