The Air Force is set to release a report by May 31 on relocating the F-16 squadron from Eielson Air Force Base to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The state’s Congressional delegation is pulling out the stops to block the move.
Both Senators Lisa Murkowski and March Begich have met with Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz this week and neither seems to think the meetings were particularly encouraging.
Murkowski says Schwartz recognizes Eielson’s continued role in defending the west and north, but the report will likely advocate the move anyway.
Begich’s meeting with Schwartz left the Senator questioning the Air Force’s math … and logic.
He says Schwartz insists Anchorage can maintain the growth in population – even though, Begich contends, there’s only a two percent vacancy rate.
“If you look at the last BRAC they did, the savings and cost, the Pentagon was totally off on these before. The overestimated the savings and underestimated the cost,” Begich said.
Eielson Air Force base survived the Base Realignment and Closure Commission – or BRAC in 2005. It’s slated for a downsizing now, and the two senators have pushed legislation to block any move. Begich has also placed a hold on a key Air Force appointee until the report comes out.
The Air Force aims to move the Aggressor Squadron and about half of Eielson’s employees to JBER. And when it does, the Air Force expects to save more than $30 million over five years.
Even if the Air Force moves forward with the plan, Begich says, there’s no way it will happen. The BRAC process needs to survive Congress, and even most budget hawks won’t vote to close a base in their home district.