Oklahoma Delegation Voices Concerns Regarding AWACS Plane Replacements At Tinker AFB

Tuesday, May 24th 2022, 6:10 pm


The airplane chosen by the United States Air Force to eventually replace the AWACS planes that operate out of Tinker Air Force Base has been getting a test run in the Black Flag military exercises this month.

The Boeing E-7 Wedgetail will replace the E-3 Sentry, but, if Oklahoma’s congressional delegation has anything to say about it, not as soon as the administration wants. 

Under the Fiscal Year 2023 budget proposed by the Pentagon, 15 of the 27 E-3’s currently based at Tinker AFB would be retired next year with the savings going toward the purchase of.the replacement aircraft. 

The problem for some, however, is that those planes won’t be ready for delivery for another four or five years.

"It’ll take about two years to get the plane, and about another two years for modifications," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK4) in an interview last week. “So you’d be taking planes out of service before you had the other planes ready to go, and as I told the Secretary of the Air Force, I was not comfortable with that. I thought that was a mistake."

A senior member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Congressman Cole said retiring half of the country's fleet of E-3 Sentry's before the E-7 Wedgetails are ready is risky.

"We are running a risk that we can get by for this period of time until the new things come on," Cole said. "It looks to me like this is a pretty dangerous time for the United States to be running risks."

Threats posed by Russia, China and in other corners of the globe only reinforce the need for the Defense Department to move its tactical battle management, command and control capabilities to a more modern platform. The E-3’s were built in the 1970’s.  

"Finding parts for them is a huge challenge right now,” Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK5), who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, whose district includes Tinker AFB, said. “Maintenance and operation of those aircraft is challenging.”

Rep. Bice understands the needs to replace the E-3's, but, like Cole, she doesn't want the country left vulnerable.

"My biggest concern right now is our decreasing capability,” Rep. Bice said in an interview last week, “if we were to take those 15 aircraft out of service.”

Oklahoma’s most influential member on military matters, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, agrees and said he’s on it.

"What can we do to make sure that we don’t retire a capability," said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). “Until we have that capability replaced, and that’s the job that we’re doing right now, and that will happen."

Of course, Congress controls the purse strings, so ultimately Congress will decide what’s worth more: the savings from retiring planes before replacements are ready or the security from spending more to keep them in service.