The U.S. Air Force is grounding its RC-26 aircraft used to fight the nation’s drug war along the southern border — and there are no replacements in sight.
The spy planes were originally slated to be scrapped in April 2023, but that plan was speeded up when pilots were told in November that they would be out of service by the end of 2022.
The Air Force is planning to completely get rid of its fleet of RC-26 surveillance planes that help counter drug smuggling at the border by the end of the month. https://t.co/5qWBwmiQjA
— NEWSMAX (@NEWSMAX) December 29, 2022
These aircraft are critical to the U.S. effort to interdict deadly fentanyl smugglers at the border with Mexico, but there is now no dedicated funding to continue the program.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who was thrust into the national spotlight as one of only two Republicans on the House Jan. 6 committee, is also an Air National Guard pilot. He has been critical in the effort to keep the RC-26 fleet operational but has thus far been unsuccessful in his attempts.
Kinzinger told CNN that the aircraft have directly saved “law enforcement lives,” as it gives authorities an eye in the sky to detect “anything weird that’s going to happen.”
The representative said he’d met with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall but was informed that the program would not continue. The secretary emphasized that the Department of Defense is not tasked with domestic drug problems.
The Air Force insisted that drones will fill the role of manned planes and leave “no capability gap.”
Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek told CNN that there is no “dedicated funding to support the sustainment of the weapons system.” Therefore, the branch is proceeding with retiring the fleet.
Just last month, the RC-26 was used in three fentanyl busts with a combined total of over 67,000 pills. U.S. Customs and Border Inspection numbers show almost 15,000 pounds of the deadly drug was seized on the Mexican border.
Experts expect the fiscal year 2023 total to be double that haul.
And it was Kinzinger, a noted Trump critic, who wrote in the Air Force Times in 2019 that the retirement of the planes “undermines Trump’s border security priorities.” But as with everything related to the border under this White House, it did not receive priority.