Friday, January 25, 2013

Alaska U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski Introduces "The America Needs Eielson Act Of 2013" As An Integral Part Of Homeland Defense

While I'm no fan of Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, on January 25th, 2013, she swung for the fences and hit it out of the park by introducing the "America Needs Eielson Act of 2013" in an effort to keep Eielson AFB open and retain the fighter aircraft capability maintained there. The bill got an additional boost when Democratic Senator Mark Begich declared his intent to co-sponsor it. Senator Murkowski had gained a previous related legislative victory when a number of related proposals to delay or defer the transfer of F-16 assets from Eielson to Elmendorf (JBER) were incorporated into the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act. Although losing the F-16 squadron would not immediately close the base, its departure not only would hurt the local economy, but it could make it easier to close the base in the future.

Objective of the Bill: The retention of leadership rank, aircraft, and core functions of the 354th Fighter Wing and the 18TH Aggressor Squadron at Eielson AFB, Alaska.

Provisions of the Bill: Directs the Secretary of the Air Force to retain the current configuration and assets of the 354th Fighter Wing and the 18th Aggressor Squadron at Eielson AFB as existed as of November 1th, 2011, until the later of the following two functions is accomplished:

(1) the date that is 180 days after the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force submits to the congressional defense committees the report required under section 363 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (Public Law 112-239); and

(2) the date the Secretary of Defense submits to the congressional defense committees a report on the strategic importance of Eielson AFB, to include an analysis of the strategic value of Eielson AFB to operations in the PACAF theater and elsewhere; including the geographic advantage of Eielson AFB in global deployment of airpower, military personnel, and logistical support; the usefulness of Eielson AFB to potential future missions, including military and humanitarian missions in a changing Arctic region; and the basing of F-35 aircraft.

On February 3rd 2012, the Air Force announced plans to transfer the F-16 Aggressor squadron based at Eielson AFB near Fairbanks to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson outside Anchorage. The Air Force claimed that relocating the fighter jets will save $35 million over five years. One of the problems with Eielson AFB is the high energy costs because of the lack of more affordable natural gas supplies in the area. However, the transfer of the squadron would create a host of difficulties:

(1) Reduce redundancy and increase vulnerability. Transferring F-16s to Elmendorf would put too many of our eggs in one basket. A strike on Elmendorf would take out too much of our air warfare capability. One of the factors facilitating a rapid recovery from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was the fact that our carriers were not in port at the time. We were able to re-direct our carriers towards confronting the Japanese in the Pacific, in particular during the crucial Battle of Midway. Furthermore, it turned out that carriers proved to be the future in naval warfare.

(2) Logistical difficulty for Eielson airmen making the transfer. In November 2012, it was revealed that the Anchorage housing market might have a difficult time accommodating Eielson military personnel and their families. A 48-page study by contractor SAIC looked at the Anchorage housing market for the period of 2012 to 2014, and their study noted that the Anchorage's vacancy rate is around 2.6 percent, which indicated that housing availability for transferred military and family would be extremely limited in the city. Because of the limited amount of developable land in Anchorage and our failure to build the Knik Arm Bridge to open up more developable land in the Point Mackenzie area, this problem is unlikely to be effectively solved in the near future.

(3) Anchorage airspace traffic. What would be the impact of additional fighter aircraft on Anchorage's airspace? The airspace is already occupied by traffic from Anchorage International, Merrill Field, and Lake Hood, along with already-existing air traffic from Elmendorf.

Penny-pinchers like to point to our $16 trillion national debt as justification for sacrificing Eielson AFB. However, this has nothing to do with American imperialism abroad and our penchant for imposing so-called "democracy" upon the rest of the world at gunpoint. The maintenance of a fully-equipped airbase at Eielson has everything to do with the defense of the American homeland. Not only does its continued existence ensure satisfactory redundancy for our air assets, but Eielson is the staging area for one of our largest and least-encumbered air training areas in the United States, with optimum airspace for maneuvering. Pilots require frequent practice in order to maintain peak proficiency; simulators do not replicate all the pressure of combat. Furthermore, Gov. Sean Parnell is already working towards a solution to mitigate high energy costs, having filed a bill that would authorize up to $275 million in loans for a natural gas liquefaction plant and a natural gas distribution system via trucking inside the Fairbanks North Star Borough, two pieces of infrastructure critical to bringing gas to Fairbanks.

Furthermore, the situation in the Pacific area is becoming more volatile, with China and Japan continuing to squabble over a handful of islands, and North Korea pledging to conduct more missile tests. In the face of this renewed aggression, combined with the undesirable message we've sent by allowing openly-gay people to serve in our military and women to serve in combat, downgrading Eielson would send a message to these nations that we are growing soft and can be bullied.

Homeland security cannot be held hostage to the dollar sign. The maintenance of a fully-equipped airbase at Eielson AFB is an essential part of American homeland defense.

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