As it stands there is no plan to replace the twin-engine RC-26 spy plane as the Air Force hastens the end of its use in helping spot fentanyl, CNN reports.
While the RC-26 aircraft are heavily used in order to track fentanyl smuggling through the U.S./Mexico border, National Guard pilots are being instructed to dump them sooner than anticipated. New orders given in Nov. 2022 have called for the planes to be scrapped by the end of the year rather than by the original deadline, April 2023.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who is reportedly a pilot in the Air National Guard, told CNN that he has been advocating for the program’s replacement or extension.
“Law enforcement lives have been saved by having this asset available,” Kinzinger said. “We can see anything weird that’s going to happen.”
Rep. Kinzinger said he had a meeting with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall in which he was told the program would ultimately be ended.
Issues of fentanyl entering the United States remain pernicious. Recent estimates from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) found that over 50.6 million fentanyl-laced “fake prescription pills” and more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder were confiscated in 2022 alone.
The massive drug influx has consequently drawn the attention of certain U.S. politicians.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) posted a Twitter video of an emergency room doctor who is slated to be a Republican representative in Georgia’s 6th congressional district describing the daily perils he has seen from fentanyl overdoses:
Chinese fentanyl trafficked across our southern border by Mexican cartels is murdering Americans & Biden refuses to stop it.
Fentanyl poisoning deaths are up nearly 300% in GA!
— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene🇺🇸 (@RepMTG) December 24, 2022
Some 100,000 Americans have died of drug poisoning in 2021, according to the CDC.
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek suggested the retirement of the fentanyl tracking aircraft was not very notable, telling CNN, “Given there is no Air Force specific RC-26B validated requirements nor dedicated funding to support sustainment of the weapons system, the Air Force is moving forward with the retirement of the aircraft.”
Rep. Kinzinger was an early doubter of ending the program. The Illinois congressman wrote a piece for the Air Force Times in 2019 disagreeing with the termination, arguing it “undermines Trump’s border security priorities.”