Defense conference bill includes funding for Offutt planes

July 24, 2018

A conference committee has agreed to keep funding to replace several aged 55th Wing reconnaissance jets in the Pentagon’s 2019 defense authorization bill, according to a news release from Nebraska Republican Sen. Deb Fischer.

The bill includes about $430 million for the replacement of two OC-135 Open Skies aerial photography jets with two modern small airliners. It also provides for the conversion of three KC-135R aerial refueling tankers for use as Constant Phoenix radiation-detection jets.

The committee’s job is to smooth out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. As members of the committee, Fischer and Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican representing Nebraska’s 2nd District, had advocated to include the Open Skies aircraft. That had been deleted from the House bill because of opposition within the House Armed Services Committee.

Fischer also said she secured language directing Secretary of Defense James Mattis to submit a report about the safety and reliability of the Wing’s C-135 fleet. All 29 jets were built in the early 1960s. A World-Herald investigative report last month revealed the fleet had been forced to halt more than 500 missions since 2012 because of in-flight mechanical failures.

The language also asked Mattis to describe an acquisition strategy to replace all of the 55th Wing C-135 aircraft.

“Ensuring the safety and readiness of our airmen at Offutt is a top priority for me,” Fischer said in the release.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., touted a provision of the bill that creates a new Cyberspace Solarium Commission. The commission will be charged with developing a clear strategic approach for cybersecurity defense.

“This is a major victory for those who have been sounding the alarm on cybersecurity,” Sasse said in a press release. “Washington is late to the game. We don’t have a playbook, and our enemies are already on offense.”

The authorization bill still must be approved by both houses of Congress, and the dollars must also be included in a separate appropriations bill.

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