Chip Craavack objects to proposed mission reduction for Duluth Air National Guard

NORAD proposes reducing the Duluth base's on-call time because of Defense Department cuts.
NORAD proposes reducing the Duluth base's on-call time because of Defense Department cuts.

A proposed one percent reduction in the Defense Department's more than half-trillion-dollar budget could result in a mission reduction for Duluth's Air National Guard base.

The base is currently on call around-the-clock. Fighter jets are prepared to scramble and intercept any air threat, including hijacked planes. But, needing to trim their budget, the North American Aerospace Defense Command is proposing that the Duluth base scale back its on-call hours.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, the mission change would cost the Duluth unit 71 of the roughly 450 full-time jobs it now provides.

In an e-mail to the Tribune, NORAD representatives wrote:

The fiscal year 2013 Defense Budget mandated the elimination of the 24-hour alert commitment at two NORAD alert sites.

Based on the guidance, NORAD conducted analysis to determine which two sites had the least risk associated with their closure. The two sites selected were Duluth, Minn., and Langley, Va.

But U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-North Branch, believes the mission reduction will leave the nation more vulnerable to attack. "It leave a huge hole in the northwest portion of our country, with essentially no protection between Madison and Portland," he said.

Craavack's objection isn't a surprise -- as the New York Times notes, base realignments are "never popular with members of Congress who try to preserve military spending, and jobs, in their districts."

But the proposal and Craavack's response highlight a tenuous balance that must be struck between accounting for budgetary constraints and making sure the country is prepared for possible military or terrorist attacks. Will the Duluth mission reduction make the U.S. more vulnerable? NORAD doesn't seem to think it'll have a significant impact, but their hand may be forced by the need to rein in spending.

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