Dozens of fighter jets from across the country have congregated at a center on Georgia’s coast this month for “Sentry Savannah,” the Air National Guard’s largest air combat training exercise.
At least 48 combat jets have taken over the runways at the Air Dominance Center, located at the Savannah Air National Guard Base, in an example of how planes from the active-duty Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as reserve units, use the space.
But President Joe Biden’s 2023 budget proposal cuts funding for the center, which could put 120 jobs on the line; make a recent $25 million military construction project for a new hangar useless; and, ultimately, close one of the largest regional installations for reserve air combat exercises.
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In response to the possible budget cuts, a bipartisan group from Georgia’s delegation in Washington wrote lawmakers late last month asking for $11.5 million in funding to be added back for the Air Dominance Center, citing heightened tensions in Europe and Asia as reasons for keeping the training institute alive.
“With Russia’s military aggression in Europe and China’s increased engagement in Asia and the Pacific threatening our allies and partners, we cannot compromise our military’s combat Readiness,” the lawmakers wrote.
Georgia’s Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, Republican Reps. Earl “Buddy” Carter and Austin Scott, and Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop signed the letter.
Their request asks for $3.45 million for aircraft operations, $1.2 million for mission support, $350,000 for base support and $6.5 million for Air National Guard personnel.
“As members of Congress, we recognize that budgets have limits and hard decisions must be made to protect our country’s bottom line,” the lawmakers wrote. “But our military’s capacity to conduct realistic, live training sets us apart from our adversaries.”
Jared Downs, vice president of governmental affairs for the Savannah Chamber of Commerce who lobbies for financial support for the city’s military community, said the $11.5 million is less than half of what Congress already approved for a brand-new hangar to house F-35 Lightning II and F-22 Raptor fighter jets.
“If they shut the Air Dominance Center down, then that’s $25 million down the drain,” Downs told Military.com. He said the project is set to be complete by September.
The Air National Guard has three other similar training centers. One is in nearby Gulfport, Mississippi; the other two are in Alpena, Michigan, and Camp Douglas, Wisconsin.
The lawmakers say that Savannah’s training center is more modern and can host more training events than the other three. Each year, it hosts around 2,000 training missions and 6,000 personnel for various exercises, according to the city’s chamber of commerce.
The lawmakers also argue that it saves money because the Air Dominance Training Center shares facilities with the 165th Airlift Wing, an Air National Guard unit based at the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.
“It offers unparalleled opportunities for peer-to-peer air combat training, regional training conferences, classified engagements, and support for regional operations,” the lawmakers wrote.
The 2023 budget request has not been finalized yet. But the Air Force plans other cuts that could affect the National Guard, including retiring about 269 planes and aircraft.
Nearly two dozen of the Indiana Air National Guard’s A-10 Thunderbolts would be retired, and the 122nd Fighter Wing would bring on new F-16 Fighting Falcons, which it had been flying a decade before receiving the Thunderbolt.
— Thomas Novelly can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
Related: Indiana’s Guard Swapped its F-16s for A-10s a Decade Ago. Now the Air Force Wants to Send F-16s Back.
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