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Alamogordo Businesses Assess Impact of Stealth Cuts


   
   
The Associated Press
       ALAMOGORDO   —   Small business owners in this military town are concerned about the economic impact that could come with the proposed cut of 10 F-117A stealth fighters from Holloman Air Force Base.
    The Pentagon proposes cutting the high-maintenance stealths to save money.
    Holloman injects about $1 million each day into the Tularosa Basin economy and losing 10 aircraft would probably have a minor impact, said Ed Brabson, with the Alamogordo Committee of 50. The group formed to promote relations between area businesses and the base.
    "However, if you cut to 20 or 25, cut it in half, that would be a pretty huge impact," he said.
    For every F-117 there are about 20 people taking care of it, said Brig. Gen. Kurt A. Cichowski, commander of the 49th Fighter Wing at Holloman, home to the nations two Nighthawk squadrons.
    Alfredo Paz, who has operated a Mexican restaurant in central Alamogordo for 35 years, said his business fluctuates with the smallest changes at the base, including deployments and paydays.
    "There is talk of base closure and other changes, and that would certainly affect our economy in the town of 35,000 people," Paz said. "In fact, that is our economy."
    The Pentagon has estimated a savings of about $75 million over five years by retiring 10 of Holloman's 51 black jets.
    U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said retiring the F-117s now would be a mistake.
    "Unfortunately, sometimes we phase out weapons before we have a replacement in place, and that's the case of the 117," Reyes said.
    Two aircraft are expected to eventually replace the F-117 and other aging fighters, the F/A-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
    But Reyes said they're not ready to go.
    Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., have sponsored a bill that would prevent retiring any F-117s in the 2006 fiscal year.
    They are vital to the overall Air Force mission, and the cost benefits to retiring 10 aircraft are simply not enough to justify taking this step, Domenici said.
    "I want to send a message to the Pentagon that there is strong opposition in Congress to this proposed retirement, and I intend to do everything in my power to see that it does not happen," he said.
    The first F/A-22 squadron is scheduled to be ready to go to war in December, Cichowski said.
    That doesn't make the F-117 instantly obsolete because the squadron has about 18 fighters, which isn't enough to cover all the hot spots around the world, he said.
    Though the F-117s expected service life extends to 2020, he said, the airplane is no longer in production and there have been problems replacing equipment.
    "Quite frankly, as a taxpayer, why would I want to have an airplane of less capability that is more expensive? Remember it's a quarter-of-a-century-old technology," Cichowski said.
    He added that it wouldn't be the first time Holloman's mission has changed.
    Another concern is the current Base Realignment and Closure process.
    However, Cichowski said the base is home to other groups that have scientific and combat support missions, which makes it less likely Holloman would be targeted for cuts. He also points to the combined assets of Holloman, White Sands Missile Range and Fort Bliss, which provide one of the largest Defense Department-controlled airspaces in the nation.
    Possibly the most important tenant is the German Air Force, which has about 700 military personnel and 35 Tornado jet fighters, Cichowski said.
    Holloman has about 4,100 U.S. airmen.