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Lawmakers question Air Force decision for transport plane base in Georgia

The terminal area of Bradley International Airport where business has significantly declined with the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic is seen on Sept. 3, 2020, in Windsor Locks, Conn.

TNS

By STEPHEN SINGER | Hartford Courant | Published: December 12, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy have asked the Air Force to determine if political motives were behind the decision to house transport planes at four Air National Guard bases, bypassing Bradley International Airport.

The Connecticut Democrats, joined by Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, Democrats of Illinois, and John Tester, D-Mont., on Thursday asked the inspector general of the Air Force for an investigation into the Air Force’s selection of four Air National Guard bases to receive 24 C-130J cargo planes.

The lawmakers expressed concern “regarding possible political interference.”

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, also criticized the review. He said Nov. 25 that Connecticut and seven other states that were considered as sites to base the C-130s did not get a “consistent, impartial and apolitical process that judges each site by the merits.”

“The very least we should expect is a basing process that allocates these critical aircraft in an unbiased way and I am disappointed that the Air Force did not meet that necessary and low bar,” he said.

The Air Force considered eight Air National Guard installations and selected the Louisville Air National Guard Base in Kentucky, McLaughlin Air National Guard Base in West Virginia and Naval Air Station Joint Reserve base in Texas. Each was to receive eight C-130J aircraft in 2021, lawmakers said.

The Savannah Air National Guard base in Georgia was slated to receive any additional C-130J aircraft funded in the 2021 budget year that begins Oct. 1.

“The timing of this announcement is highly suspect given that there is an ongoing presidential transition process as well as a Senate runoff election in Georgia in early January,” the senators said.

Both Senate seats will be decided in Jan. 5 runoff elections that will determine if Republicans or Democrats control the chamber.

Congress also has not yet appropriated money to support C-130J aircraft at the four bases, they said. And questions remain regarding mission capacity and capability and cost considerations, the senators said.

The Air Force press office did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

“The timing of this announcement is highly suspect given that there is an ongoing presidential transition process as well as a Senate runoff election in Georgia” the senators said.

The Air Force notified Congress in March it would conduct a “strategic basing process” at three new sites, Courtney said. Eight locations were considered, including Bradley in Windsor Locks, and a decision was planned by September, he said.

The Air Force notified Congress in September that additional analysis was needed and in late November, a base was proposed for Georgia, Courtney said.

“A fourth site and additional aircraft were never previously part of the basing process until this very late stage,” he said.

Blumenthal said Bradley was considered because initially the criteria called for bases that did not need an expensive upgrade. Without additional construction needed and with trained and experienced personnel, “Bradley is a cost-effective base to host the aircraft,” he said in an interview.

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