Cravaack testifies in support of 148th Fighter Wing’s 24-hour alert missionU.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., spoke in support of the 148th Fighter Wing’s 24-hour alert mission before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
By: News Tribune staff, Duluth News Tribune
U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., spoke in support of the 148th Fighter Wing’s 24-hour alert mission before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
Losing the mission could cost the Duluth-based unit 71 of the approximately 450 full-time jobs it now provides.
In his testimony before the committee, Cravaack spoke in favor of draft language directing the Secretary of Defense to maintain the nation’s 18 existing 24-hour alert status sites until the secretary submits a report showing the cost-benefit analysis and risk-based assessment of the changes.
“I have great concerns that narrowing the mission of a unit nationally recognized for its high performance leaves our nation more vulnerable to attack,” Cravaack testified. “Specifically, there will be virtually no U.S. armed force protection of our country’s northern border between Madison, Wis., and Portland, Ore.”
“I recognize that our country’s current fiscal reality necessitates the Department of Defense to tighten its belt and look for ways to do more with less,” Cravaack said. “However, I think it is imperative that decisions that directly affect our nation’s ability to defend itself should be made on the basis of risk-management principles that balance risk and costs.”
In addition to the 24-hour response station in Duluth, the North American Aerospace Defense Command operates 15 similar stations elsewhere in the continental United States, as well as one in Alaska and another in Hawaii. The stations are on call around-the-clock, prepared to scramble and intercept any air threats, including hijacked aircraft.
“The 148th Fighter Wing presently provides Aerospace Control Alert for the United States,” the wing’s Maj. Audra Flanagan said Tuesday. “The wing has the experience, equipment and facilities to continue providing this mission into the future if directed by our nation’s leadership.”
NORAD announced in February that the 2013 defense budget mandated the elimination of the 24-hour alert commitment at two sites.
“Based on the guidance, NORAD conducted analysis to determine which two sites had the least risk associated with their closure,” NORAD said in a statement. “The two sites selected were Duluth, Minn., and Langley, Va.”
The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce is working to maintain the 148th active alert status, both because of the wing’s experience and because of the economic impact.
“We appreciate all of our legislative delegation’s support of the 148th,” said Roger Wedin, the chamber’s director of policy.
Offsetting the loss of jobs that losing 24-hour alert status would cause — if it happens — is the fact that the 148th is one of six bases selected earlier this year to become active association locations, where regular Air Force personnel will work alongside National Guard members. Under the plan, about 52 Air Force personnel will arrive at the 148th next year.
In addition to the Air Force personnel, under active association the 148th will receive funding to fully operate 18 F-16 fighters. The wing currently receives money to fully operate 15, although it has 20 planes.