OPINION: Maintaining the best military presence for Alaska and the world

Last weekend the Interior caught a glimpse of our military’s airpower capabilities as Eielson Air Force Base hosted the Arctic Lightning Air Show. Alaskans had the opportunity to watch in awe as pilots and crews showcased the power, speed and agility of our country’s incredible aircraft. It’s always a sight that humbles me as an American. While airshows are stunning displays of military might, they are also visceral and visual reminders of what our military does and what our military needs to protect us and our homeland. 

As a senior appropriator, I am one of 30 senators with jurisdiction over discretionary spending — that is “optional spending” — for defense. We are faced with questions such as whether to allocate money for aircraft like F-22s and F-35s or something else entirely. In fact, defense spending, of all spending, is arguably the most scrutinized and controversial. The choices I make on this committee are not easy, but I can assure you that when I choose to fund stealth aircraft it is for good reason. 

F-35s, such as the ones at the airshow and stationed at Eielson, and F-22s, stationed at JBER, have real world, real time, operational missions that have direct impacts on our national security. For example, the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone has seen more incursions from Russian fighters and bombers in the last two years than at any time since the Soviet Union fell in 1991. Aircraft stationed in Alaska are responsible for responding to these incursions and successfully do so each and every time. Do we ever pause to ask ourselves what it would be like if we didn’t have these aircraft? And, what if they were not stationed in Alaska?

Alaska is home to more fifth generation aircraft than anywhere else in the world. From our vantage point atop the world we exist in close proximity to not only Russia, but the entire Indo-Pacific sphere — a sphere riled in great power politics and arguably the most prone to conflict. About this time last year a Russian military exercise in the North Pacific, the largest of its kind since the Cold War, forced a U.S. based fishing fleet from U.S. waters. Who responded? Pilots stationed in Alaska. And in the South China Sea, where China continues to encroach upon our allies and violate international norms while expanding a fleet of its own stealth fighters, who would respond if military support was needed to defend Taiwan or support Japan? You probably saw some of them this past weekend.

Admiral John Aquilino, the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, recently testified before Congress that China could be ready to take Taiwan, a free society and beacon of democracy on China’s doorstep, within the next six years. Admiral Aquilino’s predecessor, Admiral Davidson, testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee early this year asking for approximately $27 billion over the next five years to counter China and safeguard our allies throughout the Indo-Pacific region. This is a large number, but is spending that ensures America and America’s interests remain secure.

Let me be perfectly clear, I have always, and will always advocate for the use of diplomacy and other means of national power and influence to protect our nation and preserve peace before resorting to conflict. I have relentlessly advocated to ensure we maintain a robust diplomatic force and global presence while also harnessing the power of our natural resources. This however, does not mean we should shirk at investing in the certainty that comes with knowing that if a conflict ensued, our military — to include the planes we fly, the pilots that fly them, the crews that fix them and training ranges they use to hone their skills — are all the best in the world.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been a member of the Senate since December 2002.

By:  Senator Lisa Murkowski
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-miner

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