By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers
State legislators say Cannon Air Force Base, targeted for closure by the Department of Defense, makes economic sense as a future home for the Joint Strike Fighter.
The fighter, also known as the F-35, is in the development stage and is expected to replace many of the jet fighters in use by the Air Force, Navy and Marines.
According to the Web site of Lockheed Martin, which is building the fighters, “the F-35 is a next-generation, supersonic, multi-role stealth aircraft designed to replace aging AV-8B Harriers, A-10s, F-16s, F/A-18 Hornets and United Kingdom Harrier GR.7s and Sea Harriers.”
The fighers are scheduled to be deployed in 2008 to the U.S. military. State representatives are hopeful that Cannon Air Force Base will be open and available for the F-35 mission.
The mission is currently destined for Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, but New Mexico legislators are adamant that Cannon would be a much cheaper alternative for the DoD and taxpayers.
“Cannon AFB has the ramp space, hangars, airspace, ranges and low-level routes to support JSF requirements based on its former mission as a primary training base for the F-111,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent Friday to Base Realignment and Closure Commission Chairman Anthony Principi. “Cannon AFB is available, ready and has a history of training aircrews and their support personnel.”
The mission has been proposed at Eglin at a cost of $209 million. Jude McCartin, a spokewoman for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said Cannon could take the same mission for “tens of millions,” compared to the costs for Eglin.
McCartin said of the $209 million, $167 million is for upgrades on infrastructure that Cannon already has.
“This mission is happening,” McCartin said. “It’s going to need a home. We know it’s going to cost at least $200 million to take it to Eglin. We know it’s going to cost significantly less to move it to Cannon Air Force Base.”
Legislators echoed sentiments of taxpayer savings Friday.
“Establishing the Joint Strike Fighter Training mission at Cannon makes sense from a number of standpoints,” said U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. “For starters, it would save the taxpayers $170 million. Cannon has considerable experience training pilots, and has the infrastructure that the JSF mission would require. We have the airspace and assets to make this work well.”
Also aiding the case is a proposal made Friday by Gov. Bill Richardson and Clovis Mayor David Lansford, which would set aside $5 million to purchase nearly 3,000 acres surrounding the base and allow for the base to double in size.
“Of course, you take that mission, with an expansion of Cannon, our airspace going supersonic, we feel like we would be a good candidate for the training,” said Chad Lydick, a member of Clovis’ Committee of Fifty. “This land acquisition just seems to find hand in hand with such a mission.”
The BRAC Commission is reviewing the Defense Department’s recommendations and must send its list to President Bush by Sept. 8. It then goes to Congress, which must accept it or reject it in its entirety. Five votes are required from the nine-member commission to remove a base from the closure list.
“I am confident that the BRAC Commission will give our proposal serious consideration,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. “Although only a few days remain until the commissioners vote on whether to remove Cannon from the closure list, we will continue to make the case for Cannon’s future.”