Begich: Eielson F-16 Transfer Proposal on Hold
U.S. Senator Mark Begich was notified by the Air Force today that it will not move forward with a plan to transfer the F-16 squadron from Eielson Air Force Base to Anchorage, in the face of congressional opposition and pending legislation prohibiting the move.
In a letter late today to Begich by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, the general says “the Air Force will not take action on the proposal to relocate the F-16s from Eielson Air Force Base until Congress has completed action on the FY 2013 authorization and appropriations bills.”
The letter comes on the heels of a meeting between Schwartz and Begich in the senator’s office late Monday. It follows weeks of Begich asking the Air Force to prove up its cost analysis of the proposed move of the F-16 squadron and Begich putting a hold on the promotion of a three-star general when the information wasn’t forthcoming. After receipt of the letter, Begich said he will release his hold on the promotion of Lt. Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle.
“This is some of the best news I’ve had the chance to deliver to Alaskans: that the Air Force has recognized its proposal to move the 18th Aggressor Squadron was not well-vetted and analyzed, and that there is certainly no support in Congress for such action,” Begich said. “Eielson plays a vital role in the nation’s defense and I’m committed to defending that role.”
In Schwartz’s letter, he says the Secretary of Defense directed the Air Force to suspend all force structure adjustments, including the relocation of the F-16s until Congress completes action on defense budget bills.
“In compliance with the Secretary’s intent, the Air Force will not take action on the proposal to relocate the F-16s from Eielson Air Force Base until Congress has completed action on the FY 2013 authorization and appropriations bills. If the bills, as enacted, prohibit the transfer of the F-16s from Eielson Air Force Base, the Air Force will not execute the relocation,” Schwartz says in his letter to Begich.
Sen. Begich, a member of the Armed Services Committee, has been leading the charge with the Alaska Congressional delegation against moving the F-16s to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson since it was first announced in February including:
- In February, Sen. Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced legislation that would expressly bar the United States Air Force from planning or executing the relocation of F-16s from Eielson Air Force Base to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson – and requires that just as many, if not more, F-16s are based at Eielson this September;
- Begich authored legislation in the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act that would put a one-year moratorium on the move;
- In April, when a true cost analysis and other information requested did not come forward, Begich put a hold on the Carlisle promotion;
- In June, Begich and Sen. Murkowski sent a letter to Senate appropriators asking that no money be allocated for the F-16 transfer.
The Schwartz letter to Begich also says the Air Force recognizes the proposal to relocate the F-16s is subject to compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and completion of a formal housing study to ensure adequate housing in the Anchorage community for transferring Airmen.
“I believe Air Force officials have recognized they have not completed their homework for such a major move,” Begich said. “And they have hit continual roadblocks in Congress as multiple communities have faced this type of restructuring. I continue to believe moving the F-16s from Eielson is a misguided idea, and I’m thrilled the Air Force is backing off this bad idea until we pass defense bills.”
Begich has continually said that with the Pacific Rim now a critical part of the military’s global strategy, it makes no sense to downsize Eielson which has some of the best training ground in the world.