Air Force Secretary visits FairbanksBy Erin McGroarty, Fairbanks Daily News Miner
In a visit to Fairbanks and Eielson Air Force Base Friday afternoon, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson was cautious in her remarks about the Space Force, a new branch of the military discussed by Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday.
“I think the best that’s happened out of this is the recognition of the importance of space to our fight and to America,” Wilson said. “The Air Force operates 77 satellites in space, 41 of those are GPS. Our responsibility is to provide exceptional service to the commanders and the rest of the country, and the rest of the discussion will play out as times goes.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, was direct, noting the previous lack of military funding in recent years.
“It’s an important issue. Last year in the National Defense Authorization Act, the House version actually had a Space Force in it; the Senate version did not and it fell out at conference. But as you know, that has to be something that Congress authorizes in law. I have raised concerns.”
Sullivan said the force might be a good idea.
“The president and vice president have talked and there’s a lot going on in space, which is a good area of focus,” Sullivan said. “But previous administrations and Congresses have dramatically cut defense spending, and we saw readiness, across the services, plummet. Now we’re rebuilding that but you can’t do that in one, or two or even three years. That takes time.”
Sullivan said his priority is getting the existing military branches back to previous levels of readiness before starting a new branch.
Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was not present during the event Friday, spoke bluntly about the Space Force idea.
“I really think this is not where we should be directing our resources,” Murkowski said in a statement.
Wilson visited Fairbanks and Eielson Air Force Base Friday afternoon, meeting with members of the public, Eielson and Sullivan to discuss military readiness, F-35s fighter aircraft and training.
Wilson noted community support in her discussion of the impending wave F-35s coming to Eielson Air Force Base:
“The Air Force is on track to accommodate the new F-35s. We are moving forward on the construction and the community also seems to be stepping forward. It’s one of the few communities I’ve seen where they’ve actually developed a master plan for what the community needs to do for economic development associated with that.”
Wilson visited Eielson Air Force Base later in the day to observe training exercises from the cockpit of an F-16.