Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich’s offices say the “conference report” version of the National Defense Authorization Act, adopted after a House-Senate conference to resolve differences between the two chambers’ bills, was approved Friday on an 81-14 vote.
Both Murkowski and Begich had inserted language into the bill meant to delay or block the Air Force’s planned transfer of the 18th Aggressor Squadron from Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The Air Force says the move would save $250 million over five years, but Fairbanks residents say it would devastate their community.
Murkowski’s clause bars the Air Force from moving any equipment – including the Eielson squadron's F-16 fighter jets -- without vetting from the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force. Language pushing the deadline for the commission’s review into 2014 remains in the final bill passed by the Senate.
Begich’s addition, conducted jointly with Rep. Don Young placing similar language in the House version of the bill, attempts to prevent so-called “backdoor BRACs,” gradual reductions of forces deployed at bases leading to closures similar to those conducted by the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
“This Conference Report reassures me that Alaska’s military presence is not going to be overhauled because of research on Craigslist and half-baked assessments based on data Alaskans already rebutted seven years ago,” Murkowski said. “If we are going to modernize and streamline our military, I continue to believe that we cannot undercut installations that are closest to the Asia-Pacific theater where we plan to focus our energies and resources.”
“In June, Air Force leadership made a commitment to me to halt the move of F16s from Eielson in Fiscal Year 2013 because they hadn’t done their homework on the proposal. The bill endorses the hold,” Begich said. “Each time we head off another wrong-headed attempt to move the F-16s out of Fairbanks, we get a little closer to defeating the idea altogether. Today’s final passage is great news for Eielson and all Alaskans.”
Other provisions in the final bill include full funding for national missile defense installations including Alaska’s Fort Greely, $92 million for radar upgrades at Clear Air Force Station and $18 million for firing ranges at Fort Wainwright and JBER.
Contact Chris Klint