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Senator renews push to block Eielson F-16 move

Air Force photo

One of the budget battles from last year is back: Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska vs. the Air Force on the proposal to move F-16s away from Eielson Air Force Base.

Begich sent a letter July 24 to Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and ranking member Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., urging them to block the use of any funds to move the F-16s from Eielson, or to “subsequently ‘warm’ the installation by drastically reducing base support operations and functions.” The language this week made its way on the 2014 Defense Appropriations bill, which is headed to the full Appropriations Committee.

The Air Force last year proposed moving the F-16s, part of the 18th Aggressor Squadron, from Eielson to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Begich and other members of the Alaska delegation opposed this move within their own state, and blocked it last year. Begich even blocked the nomination of then-Lt. Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle to four star and commander of Pacific Air Forces, and threatened to block the nomination of Gen. Mark Welsh to be chief of staff of the Air Force. The funding was blocked, and the Air Force has moved forward on environmental impact studies for the move.

The Air Force said the move would save $227 million, but the Alaska delegation maintains the Fairbanks region would lose jobs, and the move would substantially change the community. The Air Force’s Environmental Impact Statement will be due out before the end of the year.

Eielson, if the F-16s were to leave, would still be home to KC-135 tanker planes. Also this week, Carlisle — who was successfully nominated to run PACAF — said Eielson is the top candidate for a squadron of F-35s.

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