Column by U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman
This week, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) goes to President Obama for his signature. This bi-partisan bill, passed by both the House and Senate with overwhelming majorities, meets the President’s full request for the national security budget.
In a nutshell, NDAA provides essential pay and benefits to the men and women serving in our nation’s military. Expanded retirement options for troops, greater protections against sexual assault in the military and increased cyber security defense funding are among some of the most important authorizations included in the NDAA.
More importantly for the 6th Congressional District, the NDAA also contains provisions and language that I worked on to directly benefit Buckley Air Force Base. Buckley not only plays a critical role in our nation’s defense, it is a huge economic engine for the city of Aurora and it is the largest employer in this congressional district.
In an unprecedented move, the President is now threatening to veto this important legislation unless Congress increases domestic spending. This is exactly the type of political gamesmanship that makes people hate Washington, D.C. I have urged the President to stop playing politics with our National Defense and sign NDAA that passed both the House and the Senate with strong bipartisan majorities.
Given the President’s call for another Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) round, which is necessary to reduce the costly surplus of underutilized military installations in the United States, it is essential that Congress take measures to protect Buckley.
One critical factor in protecting Buckley’s Air National Guard presence in a BRAC is maintaining an active runway. When a runway closes the base automatically faces consideration for closure during a BRAC process. That’s how we lost Lowery Air Force Base despite the fact that it was a training facility that taught nonflying occupations.
Currently, the Colorado Air National Guard maintains a fleet of aging F-16Cs that will require replacement in about ten years. Without these aircraft there is no need to maintain an active runway. In order to keep the runway open, Buckley will have to replace the F-16s with newer F-35As. In the long-term, there will not be enough F-35’s to replace all of the retiring F-16s and the bases that do not receive the F-35 replacement will go without a flying mission altogether.
Buckley Air Force Base already lost the first round for getting the F-35A primarily because one of the Air Force’s key criteria stated that the distance from the base to its training areas could not exceed 100 nautical miles. Buckley‘s training exceed the requirement. However, the Air Force’s F-35 basing criteria failed to take into account other factors such as favorable weather conditions, that aircraft flying out of Buckley don’t have to maneuver (vector) burning more fuel, to get to their training areas; and that we have live fire training areas just outside of Fort Carson that we can practice close air support missions with Army units. That decision could have meant a very uncertain future for the base. Consider Lowry Air Force Base. After Lowry closed its runway and became a training facility, a complete Base shutdown was not far behind.
I have worked closely with both the Air Force and the Department of Defense to convince them to re-evaluate Buckley as an option for the F-35A. The NDAA’s House Conference Report now includes language that I proposed and Congress accepted that makes Buckley a viable Base for the F-35A. The passage of the NDAA makes it far more likely that Buckley will receive F-35s when its F-16s are retired and ultimately keep the runway at Buckley open for business.
This legislation is too important our nation and to our home to become the subject of political games by the White House. Once again, I urge President Obama to sign the NDAA.
Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and is a Marine Corps combat veteran with service in both the first Gulf War and the Iraq War. His district encompasses Aurora.