Rep. Austin Scott: Cancellation of JSTARS Recap a Missed Opportunity
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Austin Scott (GA-08), a member of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), today released the below statement upon the bipartisan, bicameral Conference Committee for the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (FY19 NDAA) cutting a provision to recapitalize the critically important E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) legacy fleet.
In the House version of the FY19 NDAA, Rep. Scott was able to secure $623 million for the JSTARS recapitalization program, which was set to replace the current legacy fleet of 16 E-8C aircraft beginning in the early 2020s. This built upon $417 million which Rep. Scott was able to secure for the recapitalization program in the FY18 NDAA. This decision nullifies these funding dedications for recapitalization and endangers our men and women in theater who rely on the JSTARS for its unique airborne battle management, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.
However, Rep. Scott was able to secure language in the conference report that will hold the Air Force accountable for their actions by requiring increased E-8C support to the Combatant Commanders around the world, and require the Air Force to maintain the legacy E-8C fleet until the Air Force’s new Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) reaches a level of maturity that provides acceptable capability to the warfighter. Rep. Scott also intends to hold the Air Force accountable in future oversight hearings and will continue to explore legislative solutions in next year’s NDAA.
“When Senator Perdue, who was also a member of the Conference Committee, withdrew his support of this program which the Georgia Congressional Delegation – including Senator Perdue – has overwhelmingly supported throughout the last seven years, it effectively ended the program for this NDAA,” said Rep. Scott. “Unfortunately, without Senator Perdue’s support on the Conference Committee, the replacement aircraft will not be fielded, forcing a higher risk to our men and women in uniform by continuing to fly the 48 year old legacy JSTARS aircraft which are in need of recapitalization.
“Seventeen new planes were planned for the recapitalization program. Due to the aging condition of the airframes and factoring in the cost and low availability of the legacy JSTARS as well as continued maintenance and depot overhauls, the legacy fleet has the potential to cost more than the new aircraft. Recapitalization would provide a higher quality, lower risk mission for a lower cost over the next decade.
“The mission of the 116th and 461st Air Control Wings are critical for the Combatant Commanders. This missed opportunity will put at risk our men and women in theater who rely on the unique capabilities of the JSTARS. I hope Senator Perdue is willing to come back to the table and fight for the 116th and 461st Air Control Wings, and I stand willing and ready to work with him to correct this mistake.”
While Rep. Scott is very pleased the Air Force recently named Robins Air Force Base the home of ABMS, Rep. Scott asserts that given the Air Force’s lack of information regarding the ABMS design and operational details, the Air Force must maintain the important capability which JSTARS provides until ABMS technology is mature, fully developed, and can be implemented. The Air Force’s own estimates acknowledge a capability gap would persist from the late 2020s until 2035, at the very earliest. Rep. Scott recently wrote an op-ed in the Macon Telegraph detailing the key importance the JSTARS mission has for our national security and the capability gaps that would persist if the Air Force cancelled JSTARS recapitalization before ABMS is fully developed. Click here to read the op-ed.
Over the years, the Georgia Delegation has fought to move forward with the JSTARS recapitalization program. As recently as September 2017, Rep. Scott, along with Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and David Perdue (R-GA) and Reps. Tom Graves (GA-14) and Sanford Bishop (GA-02) sent a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis urging the Department of Defense to move forward with the recapitalization program. Click here to read the September 8, 2017 letter to Secretary Mattis.
Additionally, in July 2017, Rep. Scott, along with twelve Members of the Georgia Congressional Delegation sent a letter to Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force, stressing the importance of the Air Force’s continued support of the JSTARS mission as it faces delays in its efforts to recapitalize the aging fleet. Click here the July 21, 2017 letter to Secretary Wilson.
JSTARS recapitalization has also been supported broadly by the House of Representatives. In November 2015, a bipartisan group of sixty Members of Congress sent a letter to then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter expressing support for the JSTARS Recapitalization program. Click here to read the November 20, 2015 letter to Ash Carter.