Eielson F-16s to be moved to Anchorage
The Air Force says it plans to transfer to Anchorage all its F-16 fighter jets based at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, leading to fears that the base could be targeted when the military considers closures or realignments.
The Air Force says in a new report that it plans to transfer all its F-16 fighter jets based at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks to Anchorage, leading to fears that Eielson will once again be targeted when the military considers base closures or realignments.
The 21 fighter jets will be relocated to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, "allowing us to achieve savings in base support at Eielson," according to the online report published by the Air Force.
The transfer will take place in fiscal year 2013. Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage will have all four of its C-130H cargo planes retired or transferred the same year, the report said. The Alaska Air National Guard will continue to operate its eight C-130s, a Guard spokesman said.
The document is dated February and titled "USAF Force Structure Changes: Sustaining Readiness and Modernizing the Total Force."
In all, the cutbacks, equipment retirements and restructuring announced in the 12-page report have direct impacts in 33 states, meaning it is likely Congress will get involved regardless of the strategic and efficiency benefits of the new alignments. The Air Force says the retirement of 200 aircraft in the 2013 fiscal year and 300 aircraft through the longer planning period will save $8.7 billion.
The document also shows the Air Force's strategic thinking. It plans to maintain a capability to fight one broad war with combined Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine forces, along with campaigns from space and cyberspace, while at the same time holding off a second aggressor that might think it could take advantage of an otherwise occupied United States. But the strategy doesn't provide for the kind of long-term engagements experienced by the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The Air Force will be smaller but will remain highly capable, lethal, ready, agile and deployable," the document said.
It also proposes a reduction in the proportion of reserve and air guard personnel to the total force. Since 1990, the Air Force has increased that percentage from about 25 percent to 35 percent today as a result of the needs of deployments and two wars. The report notes that the increased reliance on reservists and the guard has had a substantial negative effect on the personal lives of airmen with families and civilian jobs. The current rates of deployment of part-time personnel "cannot be sustained," it said.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said he's concerned and has requested a briefing from military officials. "We should not be moving personnel and equipment -- especially C-130s that are crucial to search and rescue missions throughout Alaska -- farther from the Arctic when we're on the verge of finally realizing the potential of what the Arctic has to offer," he said in a statement.
The report says the Air Force wants to retire the 65 oldest C-130s but plans to keep 318 in its fleet, in part through a modernization program. The Air Force said it will also modernize its 350 F-16s and keep them active at least until they can be replaced with the newer F-35s. The report said the Air Force will retire its remaining C-5A transports, all based in Texas, but keep the C-5M and C-17. It will also retire 20 KC-135 tankers, based on the old Boeing 707.
The report doesn't directly address changes in the numbers of Air Force personnel other than to say force numbers will be smaller.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last week the Pentagon will seek new rounds of military base closures, prompting Alaska's congressional delegation and Gov. Sean Parnell to issue a joint statement saying they will stand together to resist attempts to close or shrink Alaska bases.
The military in May 2005 recommended closure of 33 major bases and substantial reductions at 29 more. That included the recommended partial shutdown of Eielson Air Force Base, the sprawling airfield in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, which housed a squadron of F-16 fighters and A-10 Thunderbolts.
The Defense Department recommended Eielson for "warm" status, a part-time base that squadrons from other bases could use for training.
The Pentagon in 2005 projected Eielson's loss at 2,821 military jobs and 319 civilian jobs -- just under 4 percent of the Fairbanks North Star Borough population without counting 3,300 dependents. The military estimated a savings of $2.7 billion over 20 years at Eielson.
When the Base Realignment and Closure Commission visited Fairbanks a month after the announcement, the community responded with fervor.
More than 3,000 residents filled a civic center for the hearing. The late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, retired Air Force Gen. Pat Gamble and retired Army Maj. Gen. Mark Hamilton, the current and former presidents of the University of Alaska, made impassioned statements in opposition to Eielson changes, noting its strategic importance on polar air routes and its location at the midway point of the trans-Alaska pipeline.
The testimony and show of community support may have worked. The base lost its A-10 Warthogs but kept the F-16s and most permanent employees.
In November, the Air Force announced that 220 civilian jobs at Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson and 45 civilian jobs at Eielson will be eliminated.
Source: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - Tacoma, WA - Staff and wire reports(www.thenewstribune.com)
Note: This story was reported by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the Associated Press and Daily News reporter Richard Mauer. Anchorage Daily News reported this story at www.adn.com
Photo: Climbing high in to the sun!...A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon taxis towards the flightline Oct. 27, 2011, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The aircraft is assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron. . (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Boitz/Released)