Alaska Senators Ask Panetta to Explain, Reconsider F-16 Decision

National Security, Military Readiness would be impacted, Senators say

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senators Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta expressing their concern over an Air Force proposal to move the 18th Aggressor Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks to Joint Base-Elmendorf Richardson in Anchorage.

In a joint letter to Sec. Panetta, the Senators point out nothing has changed since a similar proposal was rejected in 2005 by the independent Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC).

“After an extensive site survey, the commission determined the Air Force’s estimated cost savings derived by relocating the F-16 squadron were overstated by approximately $1 billion. Further, the commission found relocating the F-16 squadron and placing Eielson AFB in “warm status” would leave the largest and greatest airspace and range complex in the U.S. drastically underutilized.”

The senators also question the wisdom of making decisions regarding real property outside of the formal BRAC commission process. They point out a portion of the law allowing for realignments and closures outside the BRAC process has historically not been widely used since a comprehensive approach through the BRAC is recognized as the best way to approach property management and readiness.

“Non-compliance with this statute is alarming and sets a dangerous precedent for installations to be closed or realigned without providing required justification such as cost, real savings, impact and alternatives,” the letter states.

The Senators close the letter by telling Panetta the nation simply cannot afford the negative impact on national security and military readiness that would result from the relocation.

“Eielson AFB is critical to the defense posture of the United States, and will only become more strategically valuable as we realign our forces with a focus toward the Asia-Pacific, and activity in the Arctic increases.”

Sens. Begich and Murkowski yesterday introduced legislation in the Senate designed to prevent the Air Force from implementing the F-16 move. The Alaska Congressional Delegation will meet with U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz on Thursday to further discuss the Air Force’s plan and question the reasoning.