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U.S. Reps. Tom Cole, Jim Bridenstine: Nation needs more AWACS planes, not fewer

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Washington D.C., May 27, 2014 | comments

Driven by shrinking budgets across all areas of government, most noticeably to the Department of Defense, President Barack Obama's recent budget proposal reveals cuts that will reshape the U.S. military for the remainder of the decade and far beyond.

Due to the unwillingness of the president and lawmakers to find lasting solutions for the nation's budget deficit, the Defense Department has been forced to make difficult decisions. Obama's budget proposal to Congress for fiscal year 2015 will drastically weaken the military as we know it and severely limit the options of future presidents.

With an ever-shrinking military budget, tough tradeoffs are inevitable, but our men and women in uniform should always be the priority. They deserve the best training and equipment needed for serving overseas or facing the next challenge on our own soil.

The Defense Department must ensure that its budget reflects preparation for unforeseen challenges, whenever or wherever those might occur. Unfortunately, the budget choices that military leaders have been forced to make pose threats to national security.

As part of the president's recent proposal, the U.S. Air Force announced it would remove from its inventory nearly 500 aircraft over the next five years from both the active and reserve. The reductions include the inactivation of seven E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft stationed at Tinker Air Force Base and the de-establishment of the 513th Air Control Group (ACG) consisting of 520 military personnel.

In this dangerous world, we need more AWACS, not fewer. Currently, the Air Force inventory consists of 31 AWACS. Out of the total fleet, 27 are stationed at Tinker, from which the planes are regularly used for both wartime and peacetime missions.

While the Air Force plans to use the savings from deactivation to incrementally upgrade the remaining planes, thereÍs no assurance that another priority wonÍt claim those dollars. If so, our force will be left with a reduced and minimally-upgraded fleet flying well into the next decade. This is unacceptable for our warfighters and American national security. America's strength is its command and control. If we intend to win wars in the future, America needs AWACS.

The president's plan assumes the world will remain stable and our commanders won't miss these key AWACS assets. This is contrary to the reality we've experienced throughout the previous 15 years. Until Obama works with Congress to make tough fiscal decisions, next year's budget will include more drastic cuts to the nation's defense capabilities.

Even though Congress and sometimes our own congressional delegation seem to disagree on many issues, we do agree that the military and the nation canÍt afford to continue down the same fiscal path and accept increasing risks assumed by the Defense Department. Recognizing the loss in AWACS capability, Rep. Bridenstine was able to include a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2015 that would keep three of the seven aircraft slated for reduction and the 513th ACG at Tinker.

Congress must begin the difficult and larger conversation about how to change America's dire fiscal outlook. The delegation will continue to work together to prevent the proposed cuts to the AWACS platform. Fortunately, members of the delegation serve on relevant committees to provide military commanders with the assets they need and also work on the larger and more difficult budget priorities.

We will continue to champion changes to the president's budget that make sense in providing certainty for the nation's fiscal future and keeping this nation and the world safe.

Cole, R-Moore, represents the 4th Congressional District and serves on the Defense Subcommittee of House Committee on Appropriations. Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, represents the 1st Congressional District and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He flew the Navy version of AWACS, the E-2C Hawkeye, in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and continues to serve as a Navy Reservist.

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