WASHINGTON — The White House came out strongly on Tuesday against the defense spending bill set to be considered by the full U.S. House this week and specifically cited a provision that would protect AWACS planes stationed at Tinker Air Force Base.
A statement from the White House budget office says a section of the spending bill authored by Rep. Tom Cole "would prevent the Air Force from using funds to divest or to disestablish any units of the active or reserve component associated with E-3 airborne warning and control system aircraft.
"This provision would force the Air Force to take funding from higher priority defense needs in order to operate, sustain, and maintain aircraft that are not needed and are unaffordable in today's constrained fiscal environment."
The Air Force had proposed cutting seven of the 27 AWACS planes at Tinker. And, under the proposal, a Reserve unit at Tinker would no longer be allowed to fly any of the remaining planes.
Cole, R-Moore, whose district includes Tinker, added a provision to the defense spending bill that would provide $34.6 million for AWACS operations and maintenance, $24.9 million for personnel and $31 million for parts and modifications.
Cole is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and influential on the subcommittee for defense spending.
U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, a former Navy pilot who has also fought the Air Force proposal, recently called AWACS “the only airborne asset capable of performing command and control and battle space management. ... If you take it out, we can’t fight, and we can’t win.”
Sen. Jim Inhofe, of Tulsa, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has added language to the Senate defense authorization bill to protect all of Tinker's AWACS. That bill is separate from the spending legislation that must follow.