House and Senate negotiators at the U.S. Capitol have provided a measure of good news for the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base. The conference committee, working out compromise legislation for the defense budget, is recommending funds to replace five of the Wing’s 29 aged reconnaissance jets.
The proposed funding would replace two OC-135 Open Skies aerial photography jets with two modern small airliners, and convert three KC-135R aerial refueling tankers for use as Constant Phoenix radiation-detection jets.
It was encouraging to see that Sen. Deb Fischer and Rep. Don Bacon, members of the conference committee, were able to convince the committee to include funding for the Open Skies aircraft, given opposition from the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas. Thornberry raises some legitimate points about Russia’s irresponsible behavior, but his call to block the replacement of the Open Skies aircraft as supposed punishment for Russia would only undercut our security interests.
The investigative series “In-Flight Emergency” by The World-Herald’s Steve Liewer explained the enormous physical strains on the 29 aircraft in Offutt’s fleet as well as the laudable work by Offutt maintenance and operational crews to keep the planes flying in the face of the ongoing challenges.
Nebraska’s congressional delegation will need to press Pentagon and congressional leaders now and well into the future so more progress can be made in funding these badly needed replacements.