Five Georgia congressmen reiterated their unwavering support of upgrading the nation's surveillance aircraft instead of replacing them.
In a Sept. 8 letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, they wrote that they'd recently been informed that the Air Force wants to consider "alternative intelligence and surveillance platforms" instead of upgrading the existing Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System or JSTARS fleet.
"JSTARS is truly a joint platform, and we are tremendously concerned about the possibility of any capability gap," they wrote. "we hope that any decision regarding the future of JSTARS is made with consideration for the needs of the Active Duty, National Guard, and Reserve components across the services, as well as combatant commander requirements."
The five are U.S. Senators David Perdue and Johnny Isakson and Reps. Sanford Bishop Jr., 2nd District; Austin Scott, 8th District; and Tom Graves, 14th District.
There are 17 JSTARS aircraft, all assigned to the Georgia National Guard's 116th Air Control Wing at Robins Air Force Base. JSTARS has the ability to monitor enemy ground movements over large areas while penetrating adverse weather conditions.
Underscoring the aircrats abilities in their letter, the congressmen also noted that "the rise in threats from near-peer adversaries only increase the already high demand for JSTARS capabilities. Combatant Commanders have made clear in congressional testimony and in private meetings with us their urgent requirement for the capability provided by JSTARS, including the desire for considerably more coverage than the current legacy fleet is able to provide."
There isn't an alternative for JSTARS, they wrote, and "indicators of its retirement are unacceptable. Without this capability, we greatly diminish our nation's airpower and reduce our combat strength."
The congressmen scoffed at the idea of putting together a new analysis of alternatives to replace JSTARS. They pointed out that five previous studies on possible alternatives resulted in the same conclusion that upgrading the current programs was the best method.
Moreover, they wrote, it would be a waste of tax dollars to shift from upgrades to an alternatives study. A few years ago, officials spent $2 billion on a replacement program that fizzled. "Further changes only serve to be a gross abuse of taxpayer funds."
The five also noted that Congress has urged the Air Force to support and accelerate the JSTARS upgrade, and they urged Mattis to throw his support behind the effort.
"You can depend on our support for your efforts, but the direction the Air Force appears to be moving is simply wrong - more delay is not an option."
A spokesperson in Perdue's office said the congressmen are awaiting a response from Mattis.
The JSTARS were evacuated last week to Tinker AFB in Oklahoma because of Hurricane Irma.