Sen. Thom Tillis (R., N.C.) has proposed a new measure to save and expand the number of Air Force planes at Fort Bragg, N.C., the nation’s largest military base for training airborne units.
Tillis’ amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which the Senate passed on Thursday, would send nine upgraded C-130H planes to Fort Bragg’s Pope Airfield to replace six older planes that the Air Force wants to retire. While his plan would not prevent the closure of the 440th Airlift Wing currently at the base, local airmen could potentially find jobs operating the new planes.
'I am pleased that my Senate colleagues and I found a solution that would not only save, but increase and improve the C-130H presence at Fort Bragg, effectively stopping the Air Force leadership’s short-sighted and strategically flawed plan to remove all C-130Hs from Pope Airfield," Tillis said in a statement. 'Most importantly, this amendment ensures that the brave men and women of America’s global response force will continue to be trained, equipped, and ready to defend our nation at a moment’s notice."
Critics of the Air Force plan to shutter the 440th say it does not make strategic or financial sense. Fort Bragg is the busiest U.S. military base for training airborne units—including the 82nd Airborne Division and special operations forces—and would have to call in planes from other bases if they were not permanently stationed there. The Air Force has also spent $2.3 billion modernizing the C-130 planes, but it now says it wants to abandon the aircraft.
Army leaders have also expressed opposition to removing the C-130s from Fort Bragg. 'Of all places in the world, why would we take that capability away from Fort Bragg?" said Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, commander of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps, in February.
The status of the NDAA remains unclear. Sen. Harry Reid (D., Nev.), the minority leader, has vowed to block the defense bill and other Republican-authored spending bills, while President Obama has also said he would veto the measures unless lawmakers remove budget caps known as sequestration.