Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Air Force Announces That The 18th Aggressor Squadron And Its F-16s Will Remain At Eielson AFB

On October 2nd, 2013, Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning announced that all 21 F-16s and their 18th Aggressor Squadron will remain at Eielson AFB 25 miles southeast of Fairbanks. Fanning delivered the news directly to the Alaska Congressional Delegation, which met for a joint conference call during an afternoon meeting in Rep. Don Young's Washington office. The Air Force had originally sought to transfer the squadron and its aircraft to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson just outside Anchorage in 2012 under the premise that it would save money; the move was first recommended by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission in 2005. However, the Air Force found that the savings would not have been significant enough for the move to make sense financially, and the adverse impact on the economy of Fairbanks would have been significant. KTVA Channel 11 news video below:

The first hint of this decision surfaced on September 29th when Senator Lisa Murkowski reported that she had met with Secretary Fanning on September 26th and Fanning told her that the Air Force had done a poor job in explaining the proposal to move the F-16s out of Eielson. He told Murkowski that the Air Force had neither clearly articulated why they thought it was a good move, nor were the able to effectively back up their claims with numbers. Buoyed by this report, 64.7 percent of local voters approved a $19.4 million school bond which included provisions to replace inefficient and aging boilers at North Pole Middle School. It would have been awkward to upgrade a school that might lose a big chunk of its student population due to relocation of their families.

The proposed move was opposed from the very beginning by Alaska's Congressional delegation and much of the Fairbanks community, including business owners and landlords who have become economically dependent upon Eielson. An estimated 1,200 direct and indirect jobs could have been lost as a result of relocation. In addition, politicos and business representatives in Anchorage never really warmed up to the idea because of crowded airspace and a tight housing market. Furthermore, some were concerned about the appearance of "putting all our air defense eggs in one basket", noting that the only reason we recovered from Pearl Harbor so rapidly was because the carriers were the only ships at sea when the Japanese attacked on December 7th, 1941.

Not only did Alaska's Congressional delegation rejoice at the decision, but Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins celebrated, saying “It’s great news. It’s been a push. It’s like the clouds have cleared and there’s a sharp view of what’s ahead for us.” The decision could strengthen the case for the Air Force choosing to base F-35s at Eielson in the future, as well as the possibility that Spangdahlem AB's F-16s could also be relocated to Eielson. Taking steps to lower energy costs in Interior Alaska will strengthen Eielson's case for housing the F-35s; this will require the establishment of a natural gas delivery system in the area to make energy costs more competitive.

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