ATLANTA – For decades, Georgia’s military bases could rely on an influential congressional delegation to land the new missions they needed to remain vibrant.
The Peach State first had U.S. Rep. Carl Vinson and Sen. Richard Russell chairing their respective chambers’ Armed Services committees, putting them in perfect position to look out for Georgia’s interests. They were followed by Sen. Sam Nunn, who chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee, and later by Sens. Max Cleland and Saxby Chambliss, who served on the panel.
‘We always had someone from Georgia on the Senate Armed Services Committee,” Chambliss told Capitol Beat Nov. 16. “We could authorize every program we wanted to.”
Today finds the Georgia delegation less well positioned to compete for an especially large number of potential military missions on the horizon.
“Austin Scott has very big shoulders he’s going to have to carry,” Chambliss said, referring to the Republican congressman from Tifton serving on the House Armed Services Committee. “We have no member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. That’s a mistake.”
The list of potential 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 a new fleet of Air Force refueling tankers in Alabama and fit them out at the Lockheed Martin plant 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 likely to be stationed at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St. Marys.
- efforts to oppose a Biden administration plan to close the Air Dominance Center in Savannah.
- proposed funding to upgrade military housing in Georgia, stemming from a Senate investigation of substandard housing at Fort Gordon near Augusta.
Scott said he’s up to the task.
“As the only Georgian on a congressional defense committee, I am proud to be a 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,” he said in a prepared statement.
“We are excited about new missions, the progress we have made in bringing new platforms to Georgia, the improvements the [Defense Department] will be making for 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 pushed for several years for funding to replace the A-10 Warthogs at Moody. He has argued they were critical in the fight against ISIS with their unique ability to operate at low altitudes with rugged terrain.
“It’s still a very viable weapons system,” Chambliss added. “But they’re old and are going to be replaced at some point.”
Lockheed is working in partnership with Europe-based Airbus in the competition to build new refueling tankers for the Air Force.
Heath Garrett, who served as chief of staff for the late Sen. Johnny Isakson, said landing the tanker mission at Lockheed would provide a huge boost for a company that suffered thousands of layoffs during the Great Recession a decade ago.
“Adding that tanker refueling to Lockheed would have a significant job impact and add to the diversity of Lockheed,” he said. “It’s a joint-use base. We want as many uses there as we can get.”
“Any time we can bring new opportunities to Marietta, the entire community benefits — to include our neighbors at Dobbins Air Reserve Base,” added Rod McLean, vice President and general manager of the
Air Mobility & Maritime Missions Line of Business at Lockheed.
“A new business allows us to stabilize the plant and to keep teammates employed with highly skilled, technical and good paying jobs. New business helps us retain current employees, hire more teammates and extend more work opportunities to benefit the local economy.”
Gulfstream, Georgia’s largest manufacturing employer, is building EC-37Bs at its Savannah plant for a communications disruption mission to replace an older generation of the aircraft. Ground testing of the system is due to begin early next year, with the first EC-37Bs expected 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 Georgia congressional delegation’s efforts on behalf of the state’s military bases are to win new missions, the lawmakers also are fighting to keep what the state already has. That retention effort includes the Air Dominance Center in Savannah, an Air National Guard training facility for military pilots the Biden administration is looking to close.
“It’s never been a high-profile facility, but there are only three in the country,” Chambliss said. “It’s not cheap to maintain, but compared to what we do at other bases, we get more bang for the buck.”
While Scott is the only member of Georgia’s congressional delegation serving on a defense committee, others have been active in efforts both to land new missions and improve living conditions for active service members.
A Senate subcommittee headed by Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., launched an investigation last year into the condition of privatized military housing at Fort Gordon that could lead to more funding.
Georgia’s other senator, Democrat Raphael Warnock, brought Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., to Georgia to get a first-hand look at the state’s military bases and their needs, including plans to modernize the dock at Kings Bay to service the new Columbia-class submarines.
Warnock also won passage of an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill calling on the Pentagon to reexamine the dislocation allowance it provides service members transferred from one base to another.
The defense bill currently is before House and Senate conferees, with a goal of gaining final passage and sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature by the end of the year, according to Warnock’s office.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.