Alaska delegation cheers decision to hold off F-16 move
The U.S. Air Force is holding its proposed action to transfer the F-16 squadron from Eielson Air Force base in Fairbanks to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has directed that the Air Force not take action until Congress has completed action on the fiscal year 2013 authorization and appropriations bills.
This was especially good news for Sen. Mark Begich, who is on the Armed Services Committee and has been leading the charge against the move. Begich has stated that the Air Force has not been transparent about how the move would save costs.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz sent Begich a letter today that confirms the decision. In the letter, Schwartz states that the Secretary recognized that the House-passed and Senate Armed Services Committee-reported versions of the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act would reject or defer the squadron transfer.
In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, a housing study will be completed before a final decision is made about the proposed transfer. Begich has said that Anchorage’s capacity to house the personnel is a real issue.
Begich has led numerous efforts to halt the transfer, including introducing legislation with Sen. Lisa Murkowski to bar the transfer, authoring legislation to put a one-year moratorium on the move and holding up the promotion of a three-star general. Begich said he will now release the hold for Lt. Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle.
“This is some of the best news I’ve had the chance to deliver to Alaskans: that the Air Force has recognized its proposal to move the 18th Aggressor Squadron was not well-vetted and analyzed, and that there is certainly no support in Congress for such action,” Begich said in a release. “Eielson plays a vital role in the nation’s defense and I’m committed to defending that role.”
Begcih said downsizing Eielson will adversely affect the Pacific rim presence as part of the military’s global strategy.
“I believe Air Force officials have recognized they have not completed their homework for such a major move,” Begich said. “And they have hit continual roadblocks in Congress as multiple communities have faced this type of restructuring. I continue to believe moving the F-16s from Eielson is a misguided idea, and I’m thrilled the Air Force is backing off this bad idea until we pass defense bills.”
Murkowski and Congressman Don Young have also criticized the proposed move and worked on legislation to fight it.
“Along with many Alaskans, I am pleased to learn that the Pentagon is delaying the decision to move the F-16 Aggressors from Eielson Air Force Base to J-BER. But while today’s announcement provides us with breathing room, we need to use this time and opportunity to make today’s victory a permanent one for Alaska and the nation’s defense,” Murkowski said in a release.
Murkowski said the move wouldn’t have saved the money the Air Force claimed. She also questioned the move’s compatibility with the military’s focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
“I think today’s news is vindicating in that we’ve all been heard. The Pentagon knows there are flaws in its reasoning. They see that they need to listen to Congress on this. And they see the wisdom and resolve of Alaska’s military community statewide,” she said.
In May, Young passed a bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 that would ensure further cost and benefit clarity for such military moves.
“I welcome today’s announcement by the Air Force and I am pleased they have decided to suspend their plans to move Eielson’s 18th Aggressor Squadron. As I have long maintained, the Air Force had a responsibility to present all the facts and prove to Alaskans that moving these F-16s was the right thing to do both for the nation and for Alaska,” Young said in a release.
“As every Alaskan knows, the military and Alaska have a strong and mutually beneficial relationship. Moving forward, I intend on continuing to work with the Air Force, the rest of the Delegation, the Governor, and local officials to come up with a long-term energy plan for Fairbanks and the surrounding region. Eielson Air Force Base is too important to our national defense for us to continue to neglect the high cost of energy – especially when it seems to be the driving force behind these proposed force moves,” he said.