Bill Could Block the Transfer of Eielson's F-16s
Three F-16 Fighting Falcons fly in formation over the Pacific Alaska Range Complex. Courtesy: USAF
FAIRBANKS — A Senate subcommittee on Tuesday approved language that could block a transfer of Eielson Air Force Base’s F-16s to Anchorage.
The F-16 move, proposed by the Air Force among dozens of cost-cutting measures in February, was put on hold in June for a year after the Air Force promised Congress it would study the plans more before acting.
The defense subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed a “strategic pause” in the F-16 move Tuesday. It would prohibit the Air Force from spending money on the move in the next year. It also would block a proposed removal of four C-130 cargo planes from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
The subcommittee’s proposal would affect not just Alaska but 33 states that would see restructuring based upon the Air Force plans announced in February.
The proposed language in the bill does not influence the other branches of the military.
Neither would it stop automatic cuts of $400 billion over 10 years the military will have to make in other areas as part of the deal Congress made to reduce the national deficit last summer. These cuts kick in January 2013 if Congress takes no further action.
Both of Alaska’s senators applauded the language in the appropriations bill.
The language mirrored language proposed by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who sits on the subcommittee, Murkowski spokesman Matthew Felling said.
The senator took the opportunity to criticize the way the F-16 move was handled in remarks leading up to adoption of the bill Tuesday.
“It takes some audacity to tell a base that has been around for 88 years that they will have to close three schools practically overnight, that their real estate values are in the tank practically overnight, one third of their economy in the area down — practically overnight,” she said, according to a news release. “I think it was a blunder of the highest magnitude certainly from a public relations perspective, but I think it was also a planning blunder.”
Democratic Senator Mark Begich also released a written statement after the appropriations bill passed the defense appropriations subcommittee with language about the Air Force.
“Although the Air Force no longer intends to execute the proposal in fiscal year 2013 per General Schwartz’s commitment to me in a letter on June 26, it is imperative the Air Force understands all of Congress will band together to halt the proposal legislatively if it is proposed outside a (base realignment and closure) process again in the future,” he said.
When the F-16 move was first approved, Begich expressed concern the Air Force was doing a “backdoor BRAC,” in other words trying to close Eielson without congressional approval by doing it in stages.
The language about the strategic pause is in the Senate version of the fiscal 2013 defense appropriations bill, which still needs to pass the Senate Appropriations Committee and the full Senate. The House of Representatives already has passed its defense appropriations bill. It does not contain the Senate’s “strategic pause” language.
Contact Fairbanks Daily News-Miner staff writer Sam Friedman at 907-459-7545.