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Base Hearings May Touch On Fairchild

North Dakota and Montana will each lose part of a military base if the Pentagon has its way.

On Thursday, North Dakota officials argued they should keep their bases operating at full strength and close all of Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Mont.

Montana officials are expected to argue just the opposite today, that Malmstrom stay open and Grand Forks Air Force Base be closed.

The arguments before the federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission could have a special significance for Spokane.

Fairchild Air Force Base could be compared with either facility as the panel tries to decide the best way to shrink the military.

Both Malmstrom and Grand Forks have KC-135 tankers, the same planes that operate out of Fairchild. Before the commission decides to close a tanker base, Spokane officials believe it could study Fairchild, too.

If that happens, the panel could decide to close Fairchild instead, and keep tankers at both Malmstrom and Grand Forks, Spokane’s consultants warn.

Under current plans, the Pentagon would take 150 Minuteman missiles from Grand Forks and move them to Malmstrom. If that’s not possible, it suggests taking the missiles from the base at Minot, N.D.

Grand Forks also is the home to a fleet of aerial refueling tankers, while Minot has B-52 bombers. The Pentagon plans to keep the planes at both bases.

Moving the missiles would cost more than 2,100 jobs at either base between 1996 and 2001, the Air Force said. But the savings would top more than $110 million.

Spokesmen for Montana’s congressional delegation denied Malmstrom was going after North Dakota’s planes.

But Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., did say Thursday that when the commission comes to Great Falls today he planned to tell panelists to check out a preliminary recommendation from the Pentagon to close Grand Forks.

Tags: closure