Senator Murkowski Concerned About Refueling Wing at Eielson
F-16 Fighting Falcon refuels from KC-10A Extender. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force
FAIRBANKS — U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday brought a new argument into the debate about whether Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks should keep a squadron of F-16 fighter planes.
The loss of the F-16s could hurt Eielson’s remaining tenant, the Air National Guard’s 168th Air Refueling Wing, she said at a Senate subcommittee hearing in Washington.
Murkowski and the other two members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, have been frequent critics of the Air Force’s plan to move Eielson’s F-16 Aggressor Squadron to Anchorage. The Air Force announced the cost-cutting plan in February. The delegation has argued the Air Force has not explained how it will save money by moving the F-16s.
On Wednesday, Murkowski brought up her concerns about the 168th Air Refueling Wing while questioning Air National Guard Director Lieutenant General Harry Wyatt at a hearing held by the defense subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The 168th Air Refueling Wing, she said, is continuously on call to respond to aircraft that need fuel during flights in the Arctic and the Pacific.
“With this [F-16] proposal, it may result in [Air National Guard] operations being diminished to effectively a 12 hours a day, five days a week — not necessarily bankers hours, but certainly not the kind of hours that will be required,” she said.
Wyatt said he initially had this concern as well. It is ultimately up to the Air Force and not the Air National Guard whether Eielson will be left enough support for the Air Guard to keep its current hours, he said.
But he said he had been “assured there will remain sufficient funds and sufficient services to keep the 168th playing the vital role that it does.”
Reached at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, 168th Air Refueling Squadron spokesman 1st Lieutenant Bernie Kale said he had not heard of any plans to reduce the refueling wing’s on-call hours or staff.