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Cuts shouldn’t hurt Fairchild, lawmaker says

Sat., Jan. 28, 2012

Cuts in U.S. defense spending should have minimal impact on Fairchild Air Force Base, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said Friday.

Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced $487 billion in cuts over the next decade as the military shifts to strategic missions while reducing personnel.

McMorris Rodgers said the airborne refueling mission at Fairchild fits into the strategic future of being able to project power quickly abroad, particularly to Asia.

“The role Fairchild plays is a top priority,” she said during a visit with local media in downtown Spokane.

She spoke shortly after meeting with local officials in the business-endorsed Fairchild First campaign to bring the first new Boeing KC-46A tankers to Fairchild as early as 2017.

“We want the tankers to come here first,” she said.

The Air Force is replacing its 1950s-era KC-135s with the new tanker, which features a Boeing 767 airframe and a Boeing 787 digital flight deck.

Boeing won a $35 billion contract for 179 “new generation” tankers after a protracted competition with Airbus parent company EADS.

The air bases selected for the new tankers will get about $200 million in upgrades.

The Air Force is expected to issue criteria early in the spring for selection of bases that will get the tankers first. Local officials are also urging the Air Force to make Fairchild the training center for the new planes.

On a related issue, McMorris Rodgers said she is sending a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs outlining concerns about a Spokane Tribe proposal to build a new 14-story casino and hotel near Craig Road and U.S. Highway 2, a short distance from Fairchild.

The bureau is undertaking an environmental impact study, and McMorris Rodgers wants the study to examine how a casino might affect Fairchild now and in the future. She said Air Force officials are expected to provide input into that study as well.

Greater Spokane Incorporated and other organizations have opposed the casino because it might be considered an encroachment on military air operations, which could be viewed as a threat to Fairchild’s long-term viability.

The Federal Aviation Administration has ruled that the casino would not interfere with operations at the air base.

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