ATLANTA — For decades, Georgia’s military bases could count on an influential congressional delegation to land the new missions they needed to stay alive.
The Peach State initially had US Representative Carl Vinson and Senator Richard Russell chairing their respective chambers’ Armed Services Committees, putting them in the perfect position to safeguard Georgia’s interests. They were followed by Senator Sam Nunn, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and later Senator Max Cleland and Saxby Chambliss, who were members of the panel.
“We’ve always had someone from Georgia on the Senate Armed Services Committee,” Chambliss told Capitol Beat on Nov. 16. “We could approve any program we wanted.”
Today, the Georgian delegation feels less well placed to bid for a particularly large number of potential military missions on the horizon.
“Austin Scott has very big shoulders to carry,” Chambliss said, referring to the Republican congressman from Tifton who serves on the House Armed Services Committee. “We have no member on the Senate Armed Services Committee. This is a mistake.”
The list of possible military missions includes:
- the replacement of A-10 Warthog aircraft based at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta with a newer version.
- the competition to build and outfit a new fleet of Air Force tankers in Alabama at the Lockheed Martin facility at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta.
- the production of a new version of the Air Force C-130 aircraft at Lockheed.
- the production of EC-37B aircraft at Gulfstream in Savannah.
- Funding for the new Columbia-class submarines expected to be based at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, St. Marys.
- Efforts to oppose a plan by the Biden administration to close the Air Dominance Center in Savannah.
- proposed funding to modernize military housing in Georgia, which emerged from a Senate investigation into substandard housing at Fort Gordon near Augusta.
Scott said he was up to the task.
“As the only Georgian on a Congressional Defense Committee, I am proud to be part of Georgia’s strong tradition of supporting our armed forces by ensuring they have the best equipment and training to defend our great nation,” said he in a prepared statement.
“We’re excited about new missions, the progress we’ve made introducing new platforms to Georgia, improvements to the [Defense Department] improve the living conditions of our service members and the positive steps we have taken to stop the unnecessary and fiscally irresponsible proposed closure of the Air Dominance Center in Savannah.”
Scott has been pushing for funding to replace the A-10 Warthogs at Moody for several years. He has argued that they were vital in the fight against ISIS with their unique ability to operate at low altitudes with rough terrain.
“It’s still a very viable weapon system,” added Chambliss. “But they are old and will eventually be replaced.”
Lockheed is partnering with Europe-based Airbus in a competition to build new refueling aircraft for the Air Force.
Heath Garrett, who served as chief of staff to the late Senator Johnny Isakson, said landing the tanker mission in Lockheed would give a huge boost to a company that suffered thousands of layoffs during the Great Recession a decade ago.
“Adding this tanker fueling business to Lockheed would have a significant impact on jobs and would add to Lockheed’s diversity,” he said. “It’s a base for sharing. We want as many applications there as possible.”
Garrett said the C-130 mission has played an important role at Lockheed that will continue into the future with the production of a new generation of this transport aircraft.
“That really stabilized her,” he said. “The question now is whether we can put them back into a growth mode.”
Gulfstream, Georgia’s largest manufacturer, is building EC-37Bs at its Savannah facility for a communications disruption mission to replace an older generation of the aircraft. Ground testing of the system is scheduled to begin early next year, with the first EC-37Bs scheduled to enter service later in 2023.
“Lockheed helped build the north side of Atlanta,” Garrett said. “Gulfstream is helping build the economic base of the Savannah region.”
While much of the effort by Georgia’s congressional delegation on behalf of the state’s military bases is to win new missions, lawmakers are also fighting to keep what the state already has. Those retention efforts include the Air Dominance Center in Savannah, an Air National Guard training facility for military pilots that the Biden administration wants to close.
“It was never a high-profile facility, but there are only three in the country,” Chambliss said. “Maintenance isn’t cheap, but compared to what we do at other bases, we get more for the money.”
While Scott is the only member of Georgia’s congressional delegation to serve on a defense committee, others have been active in efforts to both land new missions and improve living conditions for active-duty military personnel.
A Senate subcommittee led by Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., last year launched an investigation into the state of privatized military housing in Fort Gordon that could lead to more funding.
Georgia’s other senator, Democrat Raphael Warnock, brought Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, DR.I., to Georgia to get a first-hand look at the state’s military bases and their needs, including the Plans to modernize the Kings Bay dock await the new Columbia-class submarines.
Warnock also won passage of an amendment to the annual Defense Authorization Act that called for the Pentagon to reconsider the displacement allowance it gives to service members transferred from one base to another.
The defense bill is currently before conference participants in the House and Senate, with the goal of reaching final passage and sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature by the end of the year, according to Warnock’s office.
This story is available through a news partnership with the Capitol Beat News Service, a Georgia Press Educational Foundation project.