WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said Wednesday the Air Force should expand Fort Smith's 188th Fighter Wing mission to keep the "Flying Razorbacks" and add unmanned drones.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said Wednesday the Air Force should expand Fort Smith’s 188th Fighter Wing mission to keep the “Flying Razorbacks” and add unmanned drones.
In its 2013 budget request, the Air Force has proposed replacing the A-10 mission with one that would operate Predator/Reaper drones.
While the entire Arkansas delegation is focused on saving the A-10, Pryor suggested Wednesday that the choice doesn’t have to be between the two missions.
“I don’t want to sound greedy but we want both,” Pryor said on a conference call with Arkansas reporters. “We can totally justify why both should be there.”
Fort Smith provides an ideal setting for both missions given its proximity to the Fort Chaffee training facility and dedicated military air space over the Ozarks, Pryor said.
“We could and should do both for all the same reasons that the A-10 makes sense,” Pryor said.
Kevin Wear, chairman of the 188th Steering Committee, agreed that the Air Force should be adding missions to Fort Smith given its unique assets.
“If decisions were being made based on objective and transparent criteria, I believe the Air Force would be looking at expanding the missions there as well as having a definite eye on the 188th as a future home to the Joint Strike Fighter,” Wear said.
As to the battle for the A-10, Wear said the Steering Committee is cautiously optimistic that the Arkansas delegation will succeed in sending Air Force planners “back to the drawing board.”
The Arkansas congressional delegation on Wednesday sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta seeking more details into the decision making process behind removing the A-10 “Flying Razorbacks” from Fort Smith.
In the letter, the delegation stressed that they have “serious concerns” regarding the criteria the Air Force used to reach its decision.
Pryor, Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Reps. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, signed the letter.
Aside from voicing their concerns with the Pentagon, Pryor said the delegation is reaching out to their colleagues to impress on them the value of keeping the A-10 mission in Fort Smith where the 188th Fighter Wing has proven to be the most cost-effective and best trained.
“I think we have some very good arguments on why the 188th should stay right were it is. Truth is on our side,” he said.
But Pryor cautioned that saving the mission remains a difficult task given the short time period for rallying support. Congressional leaders are hoping to complete 2013 appropriations bills before the end of September.
“We have a fairly short time frame here because this is a budget matter. We need to deal with this in the next two or three months, so the pressure is on,” Pryor said.