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story.lead_photo.caption U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock added the C-130J study to the military spending authorization. - Photo by Stephen B. Thornton

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Air Force must explain why it decided to leave 10 C-130J aircraft in Mississippi instead of moving them to Little Rock Air Force Base, under an amendment added to the National Defense Authorization Act before it passed Friday.

The four members of Arkansas' House delegation, all Republicans, voted in favor of the bill, which passed 269 to 151. The act, which authorizes $612 billion in government funding for Department of Defense programs, next goes to the Senate for consideration.

U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock added the C-130J study to the military spending authorization. It requires the Air Force to examine whether the service can save money by moving the aircraft to Little Rock Air Force Base, and the short- and long-term costs of keeping the planes where they are.

For years the Air Force has tried to reduce the total number of C-130 transport planes and move those remaining to a handful of bases. It is also phasing out older C-130H models in favor of newer C-130J models.

A March 2015 report by the Air Force to Congress on the program states that the service simply doesn't need so many C-130s.

"There is no surge scenario associated with the current defense strategy -- even one in which a significant homeland defense event occurs concurrently with two warfights -- that requires a fleet of 358 C-130s," it states.

It recommended reducing the fleet to between 248 and 320, saying the savings could go toward modernizing existing planes.

Initially, the Air Force intended to move 10 C-130J aircraft from the Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., to the air base in Jacksonville but dropped the plan under stiff pressure from Mississippi's congressional delegation. In the March report, the Air Force states that keeping the aircraft where they are means $60 million less in savings under the department's five-year defense plan but also avoids $24 million in transit costs.

Little Rock Air Force Base is the Air Force's formal training site for C-130 aircrew and maintenance personnel. Keesler and other bases offer continuation and refresher training. The report suggests increasing the number of the modern C-130J's at the Jacksonville base while reducing the number of C-130Hs.

Hill said in a statement after the bill passed that the study would assure Americans that the Department of Defense is using taxpayer dollars well.

"Prior to their decision to maintain the aircraft at Keesler, Air Force officials highlighted the importance of LRAFB and the cost savings and efficiencies that would be realized by relocating the ten C-130J aircraft to Little Rock. Our military is facing severe budget limitations, and Congress must ensure that we are effectively utilizing hardworking taxpayer dollars for our national defense priorities," he said.

Arkansas' U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro also filed an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act that says military explosive ordinance disposal units can legally help local law enforcement remove a bomb from a public place, government facility, public transportation system or infrastructure facility and stipulates that local entities don't have to reimburse the federal government for the help.

"With the increased activity of terrorist groups like ISIS, the National Defense Authorization ensures the readiness of our military to deal with those threats, while at the same time protecting our servicemen and their families," he said in a statement.

Crawford is a former U.S. Army bomb-disposal technician.

Arkansas' U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers said in a statement that defense must be an issue on which both major political parties agree. Womack retired from the Army National Guard in 2009 as a colonel.

"From ISIL to Boko Haram, our enemies are becoming bolder and more numerous, but defending our nation and defeating terrorist threats is one place where politics should not -- and cannot -- interfere," he said.

Arkansas' U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs said the bill helps soldiers and veterans.

"For far too long, veterans have had to pay out of pocket for prescriptions [prescribed] during their time in the military since the V.A. did not always cover the same medications. Passage of this bill eliminates the discrepancies in care for those in the military and veterans of the service while continuing to secure the nation," he said in a statement.

Metro on 05/16/2015

Print Headline: Bill asks reason for out-of-state C-130s

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