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Air Force moves ahead with part of F-16 relocation plan

Photo Courtesy USAF

Fairbanks, AK - Both of Alaska’s Senators met with the Commander of the Pacific Air Forces this week.  Commander Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle assured both Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Mark Begich that plans to demolish three buildings on Eielson Air Force Base have been scrapped, but the Air Force is still moving ahead with a process required as part of the plan to relocate Eielson’s F-16 Aggressor Squadron to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson. 

The Air Force is required to carry out an Environmental Assessment, as part of their proposal to relocate Eielson’s F-16 Aggressor Squadron.  The EA examines the socio-economic impacts of the transfer.
A team was in Fairbanks last month to continue that process.  The EA comes with a $210-thousand dollar price tag. That money is coming out of the Fiscal Year 2012 budget.   In a written statement, Senator Lisa Murkowski says she would prefer to see the Air Force “spend $200,000 studying ways to make Eielson more efficient, or new missions than continue down the road of pursuing a relocation that Congress has expressly rejected and may never support.”

Senator Murkowski says the action goes against language she secured in a bill in July as a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.  She says it’s also contrary to a mandate from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.  In June, he put a hold on any Air Force Transfers in Fiscal year 2013.
North Pole Mayor Doug Isaacson also says he’s disappointed that the Air Force continues to move forward with the process.

“It’s somewhat misleading if you’re on the Secretary level saying to our congressional delegation that there is not going to be any further money spent or any attempts to move the F-16s during this time," he says, "unless congress takes some budget actions to allow it.  They want to be ready to move at the end of the waiting period one way or the other.”

Depending on the results of the EA and pending language in four funding bills currently before congress, the Air Force could move the squadron in Fiscal Year 2014.  Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley recently delivered a keynote address during the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference in which he addressed force structure changes. “Considering today’s dynamic strategic environment and confronting serious fiscal constraints," Donley said in his speech, "we determined the best course of action for the Air Force is to trade size for quality.”

In an email, officials at Pacific Air Forces Headquarters in Hawaii confirm that the Environmental Assessment is due out by the end of the calendar year.