BILOXI — U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) along with Congressman Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), are welcoming a U.S. Air Force decision to rescind personnel restrictions on the 815th Tactical Airlift Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, and have indicated their continuing commitment to demand that the Air Force justify its targeting of the squadron for deactivation this year.
The Mississippi lawmakers were informed Monday that the Air Force has withdrawn a provision in its November 2013 deactivation notice that prohibited replacing personnel for the 815th Airlift Squadron. Dropping that provision should allow the unit to at least maintain its current strength at Keesler as attempts are made to retain the squadron and its C-130J “Flying Jennies” in South Mississippi. The Air Force has most recently proposed moving the aircraft to a unit in Arkansas.
“I’m pleased the Air Force is creating an opportunity for the 815th to maintain personnel capacity. Nevertheless, the Air Force has yet to provide a satisfactory cost analysis or justification for again targeting this squadron for deactivation,” said Cochran, the vice chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. “We will continue to press the Defense Department until we are convinced that this plan makes sense from a budgetary and force structure perspective. So far, that has not been demonstrated.”
As members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation, the three lawmakers have used their respective committee assignments to challenge the Air Force’s renewed plans to scuttle the 815th squadron. Air Force officials have maintained that the move is necessary under the Total Force Plan to restructure Air Force assets and reduce the number of C-130 aircraft in its inventory.
In May, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that includes a Wicker provision that would prohibit any movement of aircraft until 60 days after the Air Force provides detailed written reports to Congress. Additionally, the Air Force comptroller general would be required to send a separate report to the Air Force on cost assessment 45 days after the original reports are received. Although the proposed transfer of C-130Js is scheduled for this year, the committee expects the Air Force to comply with the provision until the FY2015 NDAA is enacted.
The Air Force previously proposed and then abandoned plans to move the “Flying Jennies” aircraft, first to Georgia and then to North Carolina, before proposing last fall to transfer the Keesler aircraft to the reactivated 913th Airlift Group in Arkansas.