Alaska’s Senators Introduce Bill to Halt Air Force’s Plan to Relocate Eielson’s F-16s
Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Mark Begich (D) introduced legislation Monday to bar the Air Force from carrying out proposed force structure changes announced last week that would relocate a squadron of F-16s from Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
Eielson’s 18th Aggressor Squadron, made up of 21 F-16s, is the main active duty force at the North Pole-area installation, which also houses an Alaska Air National Guard air refueling unit and hosts about six Red Flag Alaska training exercises each year.
“If military leaders try to end-run the formal base-closing process with this piecemeal approach, I will do whatever I can through my position on the Senate Armed Services Committee to stop it. I’ll work with community leaders to demonstrate this is not the right decision and keeping these fighter jets at Eielson makes strategic and economic sense,” Begich said in a written statement.
Alaska’s congressional delegation will be sitting down with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz Thursday to discuss the service’s plan.
On Friday, the Air Force released a paper detailing proposed changes to its inventory of aircraft over the next five years that would affect more than 60 installations. The force structure changes focused primarily on impacts to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.
Fairbanks officials worried that the move would devastate the region’s economy while leaving the base vulnerable to closure in a future BRAC.
“This could leave the base as a ghost town in many ways, making it nearly impossible to defend Eielson during the [base closure] process,” North Pole Sen. Jon Coghill told the News Tribune.
Fairbanks North Star Borough mayor Luke Hopkins concurred: “When you take a whole training squadron, it’s an awfully big impact for us.”
Murkowski noted that the proposal echoed the Air Force’s BRAC recommendation for Eielson in 2005. “Seven years later, I remain unconvinced that moving existing units from one part of Alaska to another is an efficient or effective way of cost-cutting. I want the Air Force to show me its math,” she said in a written statement.