Deal Will Mean Removal of F-16s From Des Moines

Two F-16 fighter jets fly over Iowa State University central campus during the celebration of National POW/MIA Recognition Day on Friday, Sept.19, 2003, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Ames Tribune, Nirmalendu Majudmar)

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By Ellen Kurt

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — F-16 fighter jets will no longer be based in Des Moines under a deal set for approval this week, though officials say job cuts will be limited.

The U.S. House and Senate negotiators agreed to a deal Monday that will mean the removal of all 21 jets based at the Des Moines Air National Guard Base, the Des Moines Register reported.

The base will remain open and few airman positions will be cut. An earlier plan called for a cut of nearly 380 jobs out of 1,000. Congressional aides said Tuesday that number could now be as low as 32.

The 132nd Fighter Wing will be replaced by a unit that remotely controls unmanned planes, according to the proposal. The aircraft will be based elsewhere and may be oversees.

The House could approve the defense spending bill as soon as Thursday and the Senate on Friday. Officials said President Barack Obama is expected to sign it. The provisions are part of an overall defense authorization bill, which means Congress must either reject or accept the entire bill.

"That is what is going to make it really difficult to change at this point because no one wants to start all over again," said John Goheen, a spokesman for the National Guard Association of the United States.

Iowa's congressional delegation had been trying to keep the F-16s based in Des Moines. Lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City, said they oppose the decision. He said he will refuse to sign the conference committee report and he also plans to vote against the bill on the House floor.

"When the Pentagon initially announced their shortsighted plan to retire the F-16s, I spearheaded the bipartisan effort to stop it because they could not demonstrate why it was a good deal for taxpayers or our national security," Loebsack told the newspaper. "They still have not provided that justification."

F-16s have flown out of Des Moines since 1992. Iowa Guard officials said the majority of the aircraft were slated for retirement between 2018 and 2020.

The agreement ends a months-long standoff between the House-Senate defense authorization conference committee and the Air Force, whose original proposal focused on spending cuts to the National Guard and Reserve than the active-duty Air Force.

Gov. Terry Branstad is "deeply disappointed" in the decision, said his spokesman Tim Albrecht.

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