––Rachel S. Cohen
John Henderson, left, the Assistant Secretary of the
Air Force for installations, environment and energy, and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, right, look at the aftermath left from
Hurricane Michael from a CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft assigned to the
8th Special Operations Squadron above northwest Florida, Oct. 14, 2018.
Air Force photo by SrA. Joseph Pick.
A master plan that dictates how the Air Force will rebuild Tyndall AFB, Fla., is complete, but starting Wednesday, the service won’t be able to carry out most of the blueprint until it receives additional money from Congress.
During a roundtable with reporters Tuesday, John Henderson, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for installations, environment, and energy, said the plan—which wrapped up within the last two weeks and was shopped around Capitol Hill—shows a need to demolish more facilities than originally expected, but it also found Tyndall can be laid out more efficiently.
“While ... I think we had well over 300 facilities now that are slated for demo or were destroyed in the storm, the build-back [plan] has significantly less than that because we were able to consolidate functions, we were able to make better use of the flight line, we were able to move non-flying functions off the flight line and consolidate operations there,” Henderson said.
He was briefed on the plan Tuesday morning and expects Air Force leadership will approve the final product, which includes about $2.5 billion to construct new military facilities—approximately half the cost of the total restoration.
“We did find more facilities than we thought that would end up having to be demolished because the damage was so extensive, the cost to repair those facilities exceeded the cost to reconstruct them,” Henderson said. “The other thing that we found is, we relooked [at] land use and relooked how the flight line could be used—we found a lot of efficiencies. That was probably the biggest change from industry day No. 1 to industry day No. 2,” which will be held Thursday at Florida State University's Panama City campus.
Despite floating multiple disaster-relief funding bills, lawmakers in Washington so far have been unable to agree on a solution amid partisan bickering on related issues like assistance for Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria in 2017.
As of May 1, the Air Force will stop signing new contracts for Tyndall recovery efforts until supplemental funding comes through, which threatens to put the nearly $5 billion restoration behind schedule. Existing contracts that are already signed and have cleanup and repair work underway won’t be affected, Henderson said.
“The Air Force expects to stop intensive depot-level aircraft repairs starting mid-May, which would ground five bomber aircraft later this fall and create a long-term backlog for E-3 [Airborne Warning and Control System] aircraft maintenance,” the service added in a release Tuesday. “Offutt AFB, [Neb.], recovery effort and flying operations are also at risk if delays in funding continue.” The base flooded in mid-March, causing significant damage to some buildings.
Hundreds of contractors are expected to attend the second industry day for Tyndall, where Henderson said the service will prioritize finding companies that can tackle projects that aren’t attached to a particular aircraft mission, including support facilities like housing and child care. Three of the base’s 11 dorms have been repaired so far, Henderson said.
Henderson plans to testify before the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee Wednesday afternoon alongside his counterparts in the other military branches. He hopes to drive home the point that without additional financial support from Congress, both Tyndall recovery and the Air Force’s recently unveiled infrastructure overhaul could face setbacks, he told reporters Tuesday.
The cost of the projects under the new Infrastructure and Investment Strategy, created to address a $33 billion maintenance backlog, will rise as they are pushed off, he added. About 60 infrastructure projects, worth more than $270 million, across the US and overseas are currently deferred so the service can put those dollars toward storm recovery.
“The [operations and maintenance] projects that we’re deferring to FY20, those have to get paid for somehow,” Henderson said.
Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm, ravaged the key F-22 base in the Florida Panhandle last fall. Over the next five years, the Air Force hopes to restore Tyndall as a fifth-generation fighter base that can host F-35s starting in 2023 and possibly MQ-9s around the same time. Most missions that were stationed at Tyndall have returned, and families are coming back to the area—though not moving onto base.
The Air Force anticipates facility repairs at Tyndall will cost $1.4 billion overall, including about $550 million in fiscal 2019 and about $830 million in 2020.
“This includes the assessment costs for 693 facilities, initial mitigation actions, clearance of debris, and repairs to facilities,” an Air Force spokeswoman told Air Force Magazine.
Congress allowed the Pentagon to move $200 million to pay for those 2019 expenses, so a supplemental spending bill is needed to cover approximately $550 million in outstanding facility and non-facility expenses for Tyndall this year. Offutt also needs $350 million for facilities repair in 2019.
Both bases require supplemental funding to the tune of $1.2 billion in 2019 and $3.7 billion in 2020 and 2021, the service said in March. Air Force Magazine recently reported that, of the $5 billion currently needed in the aftermath of hurricanes Florence and Michael, the Air Force doesn’t yet know how it will pay for $3.3 billion of that sum.
“The Air Force continues to work with Congress and the [Office of the Secretary of Defense] to secure supplemental funding,” an Air Force spokeswoman said.
In addition to the hardest-hit bases, Air Force Magazine has learned nearly two dozen projects at other storm-affected installations require supplemental funds as well:
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Memorial Day is a time to remember all those who died fighting for their country, just like A1C William Pitsenbarger, an Air Force pararescueman who took part in more than 250 rescue missions before he was killed at the age of 21. His selflessness and valor in the Vietnam War earned him an Air Force Cross and, eventually, a Medal of Honor.
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