Utah's defense industry digesting Air Force changes at Hill

Published: Thursday, Nov. 3 2011 2:51 p.m. MDT

The historic Hangar 1 at Hill Air Force Base on Tuesday, June 14, 2011.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

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HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Utah's defense community believes job reductions at Hill Air Force Base announced as part of a larger Air Force restructuring are just the tip of the iceberg.

The Air Force on Wednesday announced civilian job cuts and structural realignments at a number of bases by the end of next year as part of $400 billion in budget cuts across the Defense Department.

"Budget cuts mean there are going to be job cuts. We're good with that," said Rick Mayfield, chief operating officer for the Utah Defense Alliance. But there are implications of much larger impacts down the road, he said Thursday.

Hill said on Thursday it expects a reduction of "about" 261 jobs by the end of 2012, adding that hiring restrictions, normal attrition and voluntary early retirements will minimize the effect on the base's existing workforce.

"It doesn't appear to us this is the end of it," Utah Defense Alliance President Tage Flint said Thursday. "We're still scrambling to form our reaction."

A prime concern is the $1.4 billion Falcon Hill Research Park project, a public/private joint venture under construction on the base. The state has committed $20 million toward the project, which would include 2 million square feet of office and work space if fully built out.

Falcon Hill's objectives include replacing old buildings on base and bringing defense contractors closer to the military personnel and systems on base they work with.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said during a groundbreaking ceremony for Falcon Hill one year ago that the project went unannounced publicly for some time out of concern the federal government would back out on its commitment to it — and that he shared that concern.

Wednesday's Air Force announcement threatens to make Hatch's concern real.

"This could have a real effect on whether or not Falcon Hill can continue. We just don't know," Mayfield said.

The Utah Defense Alliance is a community-based organization formed more than 20 years ago to help Utah make its case during base closure and realignment hearings. This time, the Air Force has announced major restructuring plans without public input. That has Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and the congressional delegation seething and the rest of the defense community trying to assess the impacts.

"From our perspective, we look at this as a base closure or base realignment that did not go through the federal process," Mayfield said.

Part of the announced realignment splits up different steps in the supply and maintenance processes for the Air Force's flying inventory.

Hill performs maintenance on both the F-16 and A-10 — each aircraft involving the input of a number of suppliers and contractors. "But over time, those programs will be terminated," said Kevin Sullivan, a retired major general and commander of the Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill from 2003-07.

"The programs that replace them will never be transitioned to Hill Air Force Base for program management," he said. "The long-term job implication is a much bigger number than 100 or 200."

Sullivan characterized the way the Air Force went about announcing its restructuring plans as "unprecedented."

"I've never seen the Air Force be quite this secretive in my life," Sullivan said. "Can they get away with it? I'm sure they've made the assessment that they can. I believe the (congressional) delegation will do everything they can to reverse at least portions of this."

Hill is in the district of Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. "One of his biggest concerns is that a Business Case analysis has not been conducted," said Bishop spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin.

Bishop and other Utah congressmen met with Air Force Secretary Michael Donley on Tuesday, hoping to get the Air Force to hold off on its announcement, step back, and complete a business analysis Bishop says is required by Air Force regulations.

"We feel the (congressional) delegation has the best ability to deal with this and insist on more business analysis," Flint said.

Whether the delegation can affect a change in the Air Force plan is among the questions on the table. "Our concerns are really in the long term," Subbotin said. "We just don't know what lies ahead."

"The fight's not over. This has just begun," the governor said Wednesday.

E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com, Twitter: SteveFidel

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