Senator Mullin presses Air Force Secretary over delays of new AWACS for Tinker Air Force Base



Just days after he and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island toured Tinker Air Force base, Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Markwayne Mullin pressured Air Force leaders about the status of delivery of new AWACS E-7 aircraft to replace the aging E-3 planes.

It came during a Tuesday hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee where Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall III and Air Force Chief of Staff, General david W. Allvin were questioned about the delay transition to the E-7 aircraft.

Sen. Mullin made the point that while the Air Force is divesting from 31 E-3 aircraft down to 16 over the coming year, he is concerned about the Air Force ability to maintain its mission capability.

“Currently, only 50% of the E-3 fleet is available at any given time due to maintenance,” said Senator Mullin. “As a result, crews at Tinker Air Force Base (AFB) have been forced to make difficult decisions about where to send their planes.”

He called the E-7 delays “unacceptable” and said they are only growing wider with every changeover.

“Rather than shrinking our Air Force by divesting in capable airframes, we must focus on building up our fleets to provide deterrence capable of defeating any hostile adversary.” 

Highlighted Quotes:

SEN. MULLIN: “Listen, I know you’re up against a budget. And ideally, everybody at the table right now, you guys would like to have as many airframes as you possibly can in the air. Because of budget overruns with the E-7s, we’re divesting to invest…We’re going from 250 airframes to 91 airframes. We know that during times of war, attrition plays a huge role. We’ve got our new planes that are coming out that are double the cost…and we’re talking about maintenance of E-3s, which is why we’re taking them out of the sky…Chairman [Reed] and I were at Tinker AFB this past Friday, and they brought up concerns about being able to continue their mission. They say, ‘we’ll do what is handed to us,’ but just to keep their mission capabilities right now takes 16 planes in the sky. That’s to carry their current mission. There’s going to be a lack between the delivery of the E-3s and the E-7s…is it just about the money? Why we’re divesting ourselves from so many airframes and going to so few when it seems like we’re in pretty interesting times right now? I’m really concerned. And I’m not trying to get onto you and tell you how to do your jobs, I’m saying, what do you need from us? Mathematically, looking at this, it doesn’t make any sense.”

SEC. KENDALL: “Our crews are working very hard to keep these planes operational, and it’s really an uphill fight. By retiring some of the E-3s, we’re able to free up some parts, at least, keep some of the remaining aircraft more operational. But they’re not effective against the facing threat…they don’t have the resilience of capability to survive…we’ve really got to get to the next generation.”

SEN. MULLIN: “But, the gap between the delivery of the new plane and the old plane is what has me concerned. We’re divesting faster than we’re getting them in, and the cost runs continue to go mind-blowing over costs—I mean double. At some point, the math actually does not add up either. But how are we going to keep the mission capability all the way through the transition?…I don’t want to be part of the problem; I don’t want to tell you how to do your job. I want to work with you to make sure we can stay mission capable. So, I look forward to working with everybody here. Thank you again for your time, I really appreciate the work that you do.”

Background: Over the weekend, Senator Mullin welcomed SASC Chairman Senator Jack Reed to tour Oklahoma’s military installations, including Tinker AFB, to understand our state’s defense needs ahead of the annual defense bill. Read more about the visit HERE.

Watch Senator Mullin’s hearing segment HERE.