The Maryland Democrats said the Navy plan to move the VAQ-209 electronic attack squadron to Washington state had not received congressional oversight and could leave the National Capital Region vulnerable to an electronic warfare attack.
“Keeping this unique squadron home-based here in Maryland is critical to the safety and security of the United States,” Mikulski said in a statement. “Maryland is uniquely qualified to support this elite squadron as a national cyber leader with a top-notch talent pool.”
A Navy official said the Navy was working to address the senators’ concerns.
The 223-member squadron maintains an East Coast capability to jam enemy radar, gather radio intelligence, jam IEDs, destroy enemy radar sites and test new electronic technology capabilities. Named Reserve Squadron of the Year in 2008 and awarded the Battle Efficiency Ribbon in five of the last seven years, VAQ-209 has deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq five times since 2006.
The Navy is planning to transfer the unit to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington.
Cardin said the cross-country move “makes little sense at a time when we are trying to maximize resources while increasing our ability to defend against electronic warfare.”
“Taxpayers should not be asked to pay millions of dollars for a move that would harm national security, harm our local community, and put our national security at risk,” he said.
Joining Cardin and Mikulski in opposing the move was Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, a Navy reservist who has served with the unit.
“While an active duty squadron could operate elsewhere, a combat-deployable reserve electronic attack force squadron cannot survive outside the Capitol Beltway region,” Kirk said.
“Over the past decade, VAQ-209 members developed missions and techniques never-before applied to Prowlers [electronic warfare aircraft] – mission sets that saved American lives,” he said. “As we transition from Prowlers to Growlers [newer electronic warfare aircraft], it’s critical we promote VAQ-209’s record of electronic warfare innovation by keeping the squadron where it is.”
Cardin, Mikulski and Kirk sent a letter protesting the proposed move to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert last year.