Earlier this month, I was happy to join Sen. Johnny Isakson and Sen. David Perdue in welcoming the announcement made by the Air Force on the selection of Robins Air Force Base as the future home of the Advanced Battle Management System.
ABMS will be a next-generation “system-of-systems” gathering intelligence for the Air Force. The service is still in the initial development of the concept for ABMS, which is expected to reach initial capability in the year 2035 and full combat capability by 2042. A lot can happen in seventeen years. The 9/11 terrorist attacks were 17 years ago.
This decision further acknowledges the critical role Robins plays in our national security, and I welcome this basing decision. However, there still are concerns as to what will fill the time gap while ABMS is being developed. As the service transitions to this new mission, the Air Force has stated willingness to continue to fly the aging E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (J-STARS).
The approach of sustaining the legacy J-STARS through the late 2020s simply incurs too much risk to worldwide ground operations between the late 2020s and 2035. I stand by my long-held belief that the missions executed by the men and women of the 116th and 461st Air Control Wings are critical to our global combatant commanders and deserve our full support.
In 2010, the Air Force embarked on an assessment of a more efficient means to accomplish critical missions currently performed by the J-STARS. They settled on 17 smaller business-jet sized aircraft with a reduced crew empowered with an open mission architecture, to enable rapid incorporation of future capabilities and advanced communications needed to complete the missions. They called this program “J-STARS Recapitalization” which would reduce operation and sustainment costs by twenty-seven percent compared to the legacy fleet.
I, along with my colleagues on the House Armed Service Committee, agreed with this path forward and have repeatedly requested the Air Force to award a contract and speed fielding of this enhanced capability to our combatant commanders. It is more economical to proceed with J-STARS recap than continue with major depot overhauls approximately every twenty-four months on the legacy fleet.
After 10 years of work, the Air Force is considering canceling the J-STARS recap program. Their arguments do not take into account the significantly improved capabilities and increased capacity that the new aircraft will provide. The Air Force has ignored its own assessments in their recommendation for cancellation.
It was a mistake to cancel the F-22 contract, it would have been a mistake to allow the Air Force to get rid of the A-10C Warthog as they had proposed to and it will be a mistake to allow the Air Force to stop the recapitalization of J-STARS.
My goal is very clear: to fight for the men and women who rely on the J-STARS in theater and the active duty and Guard components at Robins.
I believe Robins can take on any mission that comes its way. The Air Force still has the chance to issue the contract for J-STARS recap and provide a viable combat capability to our combatant commanders this year and not in 17 years. That will leave Robins positioned to lead well into the future.
Austin Scott represents Georgia’s 8th Congressional District, which includes Robins and Moody air force bases. He is a Member of the House Armed Services Committee.