August 26, 2005

U.S. panel strips jets from New Mexico air base

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A military review panel voted on
Friday to strip New Mexico's Cannon Air Force Base of its F-16
fighter squadrons but keep the base open for a possible future

In a 6-1 vote with two abstentions, the Base Realignment
and Closure Commission amended the Pentagon's plans to fully
close the facility near Clovis, New Mexico, giving it five
years' time to lobby for a new mission.

The action will move its F-16 jet fighters to other bases,
but keep a small Air Force "enclave" there until December 31,
2009. If a new role for the facility cannot be found by then,
the action grants Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authority
to close the base.

"We're asking him to reconsider his recommendation and be
sure that before that he closes a vital asset of the U.S. Air
Force that he assures himself that there's no mission for it,"
said Commissioner Samuel Skinner.

Commissioners agreed with the move of the F-16s to
supplement other bases and Air National Guard units as older
F-16s are retired.

Cannon is still expected to lose most of its 2,824 jobs,
putting a huge hole in eastern New Mexico's economy. The
Pentagon had estimated it would result in a 20 percent loss of
local employment for Clovis, a city of 32,000.

The commission staff had estimated that the total impact
would put about 29 percent of the local workforce out of work.