FAIRBANKS — The U.S. Senate approved a 2013 military budget Tuesday night that includes amendments from both of Alaska’s senators designed to protect the continued existence of Eielson Air Force Base.
“They (the Air Force) can’t just dismantle a base through a piecemeal approach and then say ‘Oops, guess there’s not enough people to run the base, so we’ve got to close it,’” Democratic Sen. Mark Begich told the News-Miner on Tuesday after the Senate passed the military authorization act with a 98-0 vote. “Which is what I think they had a plan to do with Eielson.”
Begich added language to the military budget that he said will prevent a “backdoor BRAC” or base closure by means of dropping a base population below the 1,000-threshold required for more formal analysis through the base realignment and closure process.
Along with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Begich frequently has questioned the Air Force’s premise that moving Eielson’s F-16s to Anchorage would save the Air Force money.
Murkowski amended the military budget last week to keep the Air Force from moving the F-16s or making dozens of other proposed cost cuts across the world until April 2014.
Between their efforts and those of Alaska Rep. Don Young in the House of Representatives, Begich said, it’s unlikely the Air Force will be able to carry out its plan for Eielson.
Begich said Air Force leaders have reacted well to Eielson-related restrictions.
“What they want is to just know the direction,” he said. “The commentary we always get is ‘Just tell us where you want us to go in terms of a broad policy.’ ... They recognize we set the policy, and they adhere to the policy.”
Also in the Senate’s 2013 military budget and relevant to the Interior is a 1.7 percent pay raise for all members of the uniformed service, full funding ($900 million) for the Ground-based Midcourse (missile) Defense at Fort Greely near Delta Junction, $92 million for radar upgrades at Clear Air Force Station and $18.3 million for new marksmanship training ranges at Fort Wainwright and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, according to the congressional delegation.
The Senate’s military budget will have to be reconciled with the House of Representative’s version before it becomes law.
Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545.