Alaska delegation battles on several fronts for F-16 data
The Alaska Congressional delegation is pushing the U.S. Air Force for more transparency in its proposed F-16 Aggressor Squadron relocation from Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
This move would drastically cut Eielson’s personnel. While the Air Force claims this will save money, lawmakers say it hasn’t been clear how.
Jim Dodson, president of Fairbanks Economic Development Corp., said the move would cut active duty personnel from 1,923 to 1,298, and 446 civilian employeess to 405 in a year.
By 2015, he said these numbers would be around 709 and 60, respectively.
Furthermore, Dodson said that the Air Force has not adequately explained the squadron’s transition to the community.
“We feel that the Air Force is not going to justify this,” he said.
Alaska’s Congressional delegation has been persistent in their fight to see the Air Force cost-saving data. Sen. Mark Begich, who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Journal at a May 2 editorial meeting that the most important thing they are fighting for is transparency in the process.
He said the Air Force has not shown justification for any savings they predict and that these savings are mostly speculative.
Dodson said the site survey team that was there in February was actually there to see how to physically make the transfer, not to asses whether to make the move or not.
Begich said the transition is about money rather than strategic issues. However, the Air Force has not produced an outline of the savings.
Begich has been outspoken in this issue. He has put a hold on Lt. Gen. Herbert Carlisle’s fourth star and promotion to commander of Pacific Air Force to try to coax an explanation of the costs.
“All I want is answers from the military. I’m not getting it,” he said were his words to a general.
He specified his meaning for “military” refers to the Pentagon and Air Force.
He said he’s doing this because he doesn’t believe the Air Force is being fair with the information. He said he will deal with information on factual savings but doesn’t believe there are any.
“I’ll hold every single (promotion) until we get some response here,” Begich said, adding that he would also put holds on civilian nominations to the Defense Department.
He said the Air Force’s plan only looks at immediate finances rather than long-term costs, and even those are not clear. He said every change in the military has multi-year impacts.
He said the Army is going through a similar situation but have a better process in place by “systematically working out what their five-year plan is.” He said the Air Force’s plan is sloppy and that the branch isn’t clear on what reducing the services will save and hasn’t fully studied the issue.
“And that’s just totally unacceptable,” he said.
Dodson also said the Air Force has not yet justified or “done its homework” on the move but indicates it will go through anyway. He said the situation is reminiscent of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, process.
Begich, along with 12 other senators, sent a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee chair Sen. Carl Levin and ranking member Sen. John McCain on May 15 to request a legislative provision in the national Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013 to establish a transparent process.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been pushing for answers, too. She met with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz on May 21, after which she stated “the lack of information and continuously shifting numbers raise concerns and make Alaskans think this isn’t the air-tight case that they would like a move of this significance to be. I continue to believe that all questions should be fully answered before this proposal becomes reality.”
In a release Murkowski states that Schwartz told her there are still variables in the F-16 move and that Eielson would remain important even after the move because of the administration’s focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
Murkowski has previously questioned the Air Force on the move. One note she has brought up is the question of housing for more personnel at the already crowded JBER.
On May 18, Rep. Don Young successfully amended House Bill 4310 with specific language toward the squadron. The amendment increases Congressional oversight over large military force reductions to better evaluate the long-term costs and benefits.
“My amendment is necessary in ensuring that a ‘backdoor BRAC’ doesn’t take place,” Young said in a release. “The data must match up with the rationale – especially in the case of Eielson. The Defense Department must dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’ to prove to me, and all Alaskans that the F-16 move is in the best interests of this country.”
H.B. 4310, representing $632 billion in defense funds, passed by a vote of 299 to 120. It must still pass the Senate.
Schwartz will release a detailed report on costs and savings on May 31, according to a May 22 release from Begich.
Begich pointed out other issues besides the costs that have not been clear so far. He said the move didn’t make sense for a static restructuring for the Department of Defense to change the whole pattern of military structure to focus on the Pacific Rim.
He said Eielson’s mobility training center is where the Stryker force disembarks from and the Air Force helps them there. He said bringing in the manpower to do this without the Air Force is still a DOD issue.
He said the family issue is another problem. Reducing so much personnel would normally trigger a legal process in which the military would have to make sure families at least break even on their home sales — but would not have to under this proposed move because it only considers the next fiscal year rather than three years out.
“It’s not a full BRAC but it’s a process that then recognizes there are costs that are associated with this,” Begich said.
He said another problem is an outdated 20-year-old model for bringing the planes into Anchorage. He said the current Air Force process doesn’t require examination of this economic impact or construction costs at JBER. While the Air Force doesn’t predict any construction costs, Begich says this is a “joke.”
He said the Air Force is not poised to do an audit until 2016, which makes the immediate promised savings difficult to trust.
He said the feedback from Eielson indicates that the Air Force’s preliminary visits have been to figure out how to move everything with savings assumptions already in mind rather than verifying if there are savings. Begich called that “unacceptable.”
In the meantime, Congressional legislators are working on language in the Defense Authorization Bill to specify a process. Begich said it’s inevitable that there will be defense downsizing, especially in coming out of two wars, but that process must be transparent and rational.
He said a petition he started calling for transparency has more than 1,000 signatures so far, which helps the military understand the community impact.
Begich said it’s important to show how this restructuring affects areas outside of Alaska in order to help show a broader picture with other states in this position.
He said other states have contacted his department with concerns, including states not affected by the restructuring, saying they want a process to help protect themselves from similar restructuring later.
He said Alaska is one of 30 states in which the Air Force is not producing the data to back up its cost savings estimates.