The Air Force claims a contentious proposed move of a Fairbanks-based F-16 fighter squadron to Anchorage will save it hundreds of millions of dollars -- even as it draws thousands of jobs out of the Fairbanks economy.
According to an executive summary (PDF) of a draft environmental impact statement for the move, posted online Friday, the Air Force expects to save $100 million annually for five years, beginning in fiscal year 2013, from the transfer of the 18th Aggressor Squadron from Eielson Air Force Base to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and the “right-sizing” of Eielson’s base operating support structure.
In the summary, Air Force officials say the move would reduce costs for both the Pacific Air Forces of which Alaska’s bases are a part, as well as the military branch as a whole.
“The Proposed Action would reduce defense spending, while maintaining the mission effectiveness of Alaska’s Air Force bases,” officials wrote. “This proposal meets the need for PACAF to contribute to the Air Force portion of the directed savings and garner manpower savings by consolidating operations/maintenance, supervision, overhead, and base support functions.”
JBER would see a swell of funding and manpower from the proposed move as members of the squadron, which simulates enemy aircraft in Alaska-based Red Flag training exercises, move to Anchorage and take over facilities formerly used by F-15 fighters. The F-16s would return to Eielson for three months per year, flying from the base as part of Red Flag and other major exercises.
“Eight JBER facilities vacated by the F-15 aircraft (which were relocated from JBER by 2008) would be modified and/or added to at an estimated cost of $2 to $3 million for the F-16 aircraft,” officials wrote. “JBER would receive 542 active duty positions, 308 students, and 350 other family members from EAFB.”
At the same time, Eielson would face an even larger loss of jobs, in part due to the consolidation of jobs at JBER as the F-16s joined Anchorage’s two F-22 Raptor fighter squadrons.
“EAFB would incur an initial reduction of 623 positions, with 542 relocating to JBER and 81 eliminated,” officials wrote. “Follow on personnel reductions would eliminate an estimated 749 military and 179 civilian positions at EAFB to accomplish the required increased efficiencies. The final Air Force active duty and appropriated fund civilian end-strength at EAFB would be 559 military and 210 civilian personnel.”
The summary lists few major impacts to air quality or the environment in Fairbanks or Anchorage, primarily limited to an estimated 50 tons of debris generated from demolishing structures at Eielson.
Most of the statement’s projections concern economic impacts, focusing on their effects in Fairbanks. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, for instance, would have an estimated 80 to 100 excess teachers and administrators after the children of squadron members left.
“EAFB reductions would result in a regional decline of 3,154 direct and indirect Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB) jobs and a net decline of 1,224 jobs after out-migration of military families,” officials wrote. “Assuming that none of the unemployed civilians find jobs or out-migrate, unemployment in the FNSB could increase from 6.2% to 8.9%.”
Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, which has fought the proposed move for the last year, were quick to counter Friday’s draft statement. Sen. Mark Begich questioned the Air Force’s projected savings from the move.
“Some pencil pusher in the Pentagon cooked up the idea of ‘warming’ Eielson based on phantom cost-savings,” Begich said. “Alaskans should be aware that Eielson EIS is not a decision document and the Air Force leadership is undertaking the reviews I demanded. I will continue to engage Air Force leadership and fight for Eielson.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski panned the proposed move, comparing it to 2005 meetings of the Base Realignment and Closing Commission that had previously targeted the F-16 squadron for transfer.
“If this fact-finding Air Force Draft Environmental Impact Statement is supposed to represent a fair and balanced opening look at the pro’s and con’s of relocating the F-16 Aggressor Squadron, somebody has a finger on the scale," Murkowski said. "In its initial findings, the U.S. Air Force seems to be telegraphing its intent through this DEIS, and the Backdoor BRAC of Eielson AFB continues to be the signal we are reading."
Rep. Don Young called on the Air Force to allow families more time, citing his work with Begich and Murkowski to investigate the planned move and its ramifications.
"At the end of the day, these are the Air Force’s planes, but first they must prove to the Delegation and the rest of Alaska that this move will actually save money, will not adversely impact communities in Alaska, and most importantly, does not harm our strategic shift to the Pacific," Young said. "This EIS does not address any of the Delegation’s concerns and does not adequately prove what we have asked the Air Force to prove."
Gov. Sean Parnell echoed those concerns, also noting the state's strategic position as a factor that the Air Force should more fully take into consideration.
“With a state that borders two nations -- a state that is considered the most strategically advantageous state in the nation with a footprint one-fifth the size of the Lower 48 -- it is unconscionable that the Pentagon would move ahead with downsizing based on this completely inadequate EIS,” Parnell said.
Channel 2 extensively covered the proposed F-16 move in May 2012 during its 49th Report, "Mission Critical."
This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.
Contact Chris Klint