Relocation of F-16 squadrons concerns McCain


Plans about relocating two F-16 squadrons from Luke Air Force Base concerns U.S. Sen. John McCain because it would waste taxpayer money, hamper Air Force pilot training and reduce operations at the Glendale base.

In a letter Tuesday, McCain asked Air Force Secretary Michael Donley to rethink plans to move the squadrons and about 1,000 service members to New Mexico’s Holloman Air Force Base by 2014.

Among McCain’s concerns:

- The Air Force would have to spend about $47 million to prepare Holloman for the jet fighters.

F-16 pilots at Holloman would compete for training time with missile, helicopter and unmanned drone training missions.

- Luke could experience a gap in operations if F-16 squadrons are relocated and the F-35 Lightning II training mission, likely slated for Luke, is delayed or reduced by budget cuts.

McCain suggested the Air Force could save money and maintain quality training by cancelling the plan. He said Luke has enough space for both the F-16 squadrons and the F-35 mission and that Air Force pilots get first priority when training at the Barry M. Goldwater Range in southern Arizona.

“We have an obligation to be stewards of the taxpayers’ money and seek savings wherever they can be realized. This planned transfer appears to run counter to this obligation,” McCain wrote.

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said Air Force officials would respond to McCain as soon as they reviewed the letter and assessed the senator’s concerns.

McCain has criticized the F-16 transfer before but wrote the letter after Arizona residents expressed worries about the plan at each of his town hall meetings this summer, according to spokesman Brian Rogers.

Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs said McCain’s letter raised “valid questions” about costs, training and timing.

“Luke has been the Air Force’s preeminent fighter training facility for decades,” she said. “I share the mutual interests of the Air Force and Senator McCain in seeing it remain that way far into the future.”

F-35 match fires up Twitter

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The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is becoming a popular subject on Twitter, thanks in part to a tweet from Sen. John McCain.

“Congress notified that first F-35 jets have cost overruns of $771M. Outrageous! Pentagon asking for $264M down payment now. Disgraceful”, says a post of Sen. McCain sounded on Tuesday.

Manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp. took to Twitter Wednesday in defense of the program. “The F-35 team is focused on reducing costs of the jets and is showing significant improvement in key areas,” the company said in a post Wednesday afternoon. The tweet included a link to recent Senate testimony by Tom Burbage, Lockheed’s F-35 program manager.

In reply, Sen. McCain wrote: “To most observers, a $771M cost overrun for 28 F-35s doesn’t qualify as ‘significant improvement.’ Taxpayers deserve better.”

A defense official said Congress was informed about the request to shift funds to cover F-35 cost overruns back in May. Lockheed spokesman Michael Rein said cost increases on early production models were due in part to design changes that had to be incorporated after early testing of the aircraft.

This, incidentally, isn’t the first time the F-35 has come under fire from Sen. McCain. In a May hearing, the senator complained about the “jaw-dropping” price tag for sustaining the fleet of stealthy aircraft over several decades.The company is currently in negotiations with the government over the price for a batch of 35 of the airplanes.

Source: The Wall Street Journal