U.S. Sen. David Perdue says a new direction for aerial battlefield surveillance and management will ultimately mean more jobs at Robins Air Force Base than if plans had gone forward to buy new planes for the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System.
Perdue, a Georgia Republican, also said the new path makes better sense for the military because it will establish a capability that can survive in a contested environment, which J-STARS cannot.
On Monday, details of a House and Senate compromise on the National Defense Authorization Act were released, and the agreement killed a program to buy new planes for J-STARS.
The House version of the plan included $623 million to continue the recapitalization program through the next fiscal year, but the Senate version did not. The program ultimately would have led to the purchase of 17 new planes for J-STARS for an estimated $7 billion.
The Air Force last year announced plans to scrap the J-STARS recapitalization in favor of a newer approach that would be survivable against a sophisticated foe, particularly Russia and China. However, U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, a Republican whose district includes Robins, continued to argue for new planes for J-STARS.
Scott blamed Perdue, who is from Houston County, for cancellation of the new planes in the compromise. Scott also said he has seen no assurances on the number of jobs to be connected to the new program, called the Advance Battlefield Management System, which will be based at Robins.
Perdue said from what he has been told by the Department of Defense, he believes the new system will ultimately mean more jobs than J-STARS, which employs about 3,000 people at Robins when support personnel are included. He also noted that the agreement keeps J-STARS flying until 2028 and requires that at least six J-STARS aircraft be available for combat duty at any given time.
The end result, Perdue argued in a telephone interview with The Telegraph on Tuesday, is that the compromise is better for J-STARS and Robins than if the House version of the bill had been accepted.
“By doing it this way we extend the life of the current platform, and it allows us the money to bring forward the new platform,” he said. “I just think it’s a great outcome.”
He also said the military could not have afforded to fund new J-STARS planes and also develop the Advance Battlefield Management System. Scott disputed the cost-effectiveness of the compromise.
“Due to the aging condition of the airframes and factoring in the cost and low availability of the legacy J-STARS as well as continued maintenance and depot overhauls, the legacy fleet has the potential to cost more than the new aircraft,” Scott said in a release. “Recapitalization would provide a higher quality, lower risk mission for a lower cost over the next decade.”
Perdue said the Advance Battlefield Management System, some of which is classified, would integrate a variety of technologies, including drones and stealth, that could operate in a contested environment.
“By the time J-STARS comes down, we will have a capability in place that will operate in denied and non-denied air space,” he said.
He said President Donald Trump has expressed support for the plan.
State Sen. Larry Walker, a Republican from Perry, contacted The Telegraph to express support for Perdue.
He said he appreciates the efforts of both Perdue and Scott on behalf of Robins, but he said he attended a meeting last year in which Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson talked about J-STARS.
“It seems clear to me that J-STARS is going to go away, and if it is going to go away, I am very grateful Sen. Perdue has secured us as the host base for (Advance Battle Management System),” he said. “I think that could be an important and vital mission for Robins.”