Mullin Questions Air Force on E-7 Delays Impacting Tinker AFB: “How will we keep mission capability all the way through the transition?”

Today, U.S. Senator Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), questioned witnesses during a SASC hearing on the posture of the Department of the Air Force. During his remarks, Mullin asked the Honorable Frank Kendall III, Secretary of the Air Force, and General David W. Allvin, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, about the delayed transition from the E-3 to the E-7 aircraft. While the Senator understands the need to modernize, he expressed concern regarding the Air Force’s ability to maintain mission capability through the gap in transition. The Air Force is currently divesting from 31 E-3 airframes down to 16 over the next year due to survivability issues.

“Currently, only 50% of the E-3 fleet is available at any given time due to maintenance,” said Senator Mullin. “As a result, crews at Tinker Air Force Base (AFB) have been forced to make difficult decisions about where to send their planes. The projected gap in the Air Force’s command and control capability resulting from E-7 delays is unacceptable and only growing wider every time we delay the changeover. Rather than shrinking our Air Force by divesting in capable airframes, we must focus on building up our fleets to provide deterrence capable of defeating any hostile adversary.” Watch Senator Mullin’s hearing segment HERE.

Highlighted Quotes:

SEN. MULLIN: “Listen, I know you’re up against a budget. And ideally, everybody at the table right now, you guys would like to have as many airframes as you possibly can in the air. Because of budget overruns with the E-7s, we’re divesting to invest…We’re going from 250 airframes to 91 airframes. We know that during times of war, attrition plays a huge role. We’ve got our new planes that are coming out that are double the cost…and we’re talking about maintenance of E-3s, which is why we’re taking them out of the sky…Chairman [Reed] and I were at Tinker AFB this past Friday, and they brought up concerns about being able to continue their mission. They say, ‘we’ll do what is handed to us,’ but just to keep their mission capabilities right now takes 16 planes in the sky. That’s to carry their current mission. There’s going to be a lack between the delivery of the E-3s and the E-7s…is it just about the money? Why we’re divesting ourselves from so many airframes and going to so few when it seems like we’re in pretty interesting times right now? I’m really concerned. And I’m not trying to get onto you and tell you how to do your jobs, I’m saying, what do you need from us? Mathematically, looking at this, it doesn’t make any sense.”

SEC. KENDALL: “Our crews are working very hard to keep these planes operational, and it’s really an uphill fight. By retiring some of the E-3s, we’re able to free up some parts, at least, keep some of the remaining aircraft more operational. But they’re not effective against the facing threat…they don’t have the resilience of capability to survive…we’ve really got to get to the next generation.”

SEN. MULLIN: “But, the gap between the delivery of the new plane and the old plane is what has me concerned. We’re divesting faster than we’re getting them in, and the cost runs continue to go mind-blowing over costs—I mean double. At some point, the math actually does not add up either. But how are we going to keep the mission capability all the way through the transition?…I don’t want to be part of the problem; I don’t want to tell you how to do your job. I want to work with you to make sure we can stay mission capable. So, I look forward to working with everybody here. Thank you again for your time, I really appreciate the work that you do.” 

Background: Over the weekend, Senator Mullin welcomed SASC Chairman Senator Jack Reed to tour Oklahoma’s military installations, including Tinker AFB, to understand our state’s defense needs ahead of the annual defense bill. Read more about the visit HERE.