WASHINGTON — A Senate committee on Thursday approved funding for all of the AWACS planes currently at Tinker Air Force Base, virtually assuring that the current complement of command-and-control aircraft will survive another year.
Now, both the House and Senate spending bills for the Department of Defense protect all 27 planes stationed at Tinker and used by active duty and reserve units. The Defense Department had proposed saving money by retiring seven of the planes and eliminating the reserve unit’s role.
The full House has already approved the funding. The bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday includes nearly $60 million for operations and personnel for the AWACS fleet. The $549 billion bill would also protect the A-10 fleet of planes that the administration wants to retire and grant a 1 percent pay raise to all Defense Department employees.
Since both the House and Senate committees that oversee defense spending agree on the AWACS, the issue is effectively decided for the fiscal year that begins in October.
Inhofe, Cole defend planes
Sen. Jim Inhofe, of Tulsa, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Service Committee, has protected Tinker’s AWACS in the separate defense bill that sets Pentagon policy.
Inhofe said Thursday that Congress was rejecting the “reckless” proposal to trim the fleet of planes, known for their iconic rotating radar dome.
AWACS stands for Airborne Warning and Control System. The planes can detect enemy aircraft and ship movements and quickly relay information needed for battle situations.
“We rely on the aircraft’s sophisticated capabilities to provide critical situational awareness of friendly, neutral and hostile activity in the air as well as command and control of joint, allied and coalition operations,” Inhofe said.
“With an increasingly dangerous world, we cannot afford to reduce such vital resources to our national security."
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, a leading member of the House Appropriations Committee, secured the money in the House bill and, on Thursday, praised the Senate action. Cole, whose district includes Tinker, said Inhofe’s influence in authorizing the funding was the key.
Cole has defended the planes as “critical assets that keep both our nation and world safe.”