Top brass in the United States military testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday, assuring members of Congress that the president’s proposed $773 billion defense budget for fiscal year 2023 will give them the resources needed address threats and advance the Department of Defense’s key priorities of defending the homeland, deterring aggression and being prepared to prevail in conflict when necessary.
“As always, the Department is determined to match resources to strategy, strategy to policies, and policies to the will of the American people,” said Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in his opening statement to the House Armed Services Committee (HASC).
Secretary Austin Zac Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the committee the budget, which some Republicans have criticized as not big enough, is sufficient to deliver both modernization and security to the American people.
“This budget will enable the decisions, modernization, and transformation the Joint Force needs to set the conditions for the Force of 2030,” said Gen. Milley. “This budget allows the Joint Force to remain on a stable glide path toward that future.”
As part of the Department’s plans for modernization, the Air Force announced last month it intends to take half (15) of the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes, which operate out of Tinker Air Force Base, out of service. The planes are 45 years old and, officials say, too costly to maintain and vulnerable against modern and future surface-to-air missiles.
It’s expected the E-3 Sentry aircraft will eventually be replaced by Boeing’s E-7 Wedgetail.
"I am concerned that if we phase out [the E-3 AWACS] without the replacement E-7 online," said HASC member Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK5) at the hearing, "then we will lose critically needed combat capability. I’m also concerned Tinker Air Force Base would experience a decline in associated institutional knowledge, readiness and workforce proficiency."
Defense Secretary Austin assured Rep. Bice the Pentagon would be able to bridge the potential gap, but Rep. Bice wasn't satisfied with the answer.
"We’re talking about taking out E-3‘s before those E-7's are even being built," Bice pointed out.
"So, there are other platforms and ways to give us the situational awareness that we need," Austin replied, "and we'll leverage those platforms."
In an interview last week, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Ok), Ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Oklahomans should not overreact to the news regarding the phasing out of the AWACS planes.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen with the E-3 and the numbers,” Inhofe said, “this is just in the planning stages, but it’s not anything beyond that.”
The Secretary of the Air Force told reporters last month that a decision would be made on a replacement for the E-3 Sentry "within the next several months."