NORAD may shed 24-hour alert sites in Minn., Va.by Dan Kraker, Minnesota Public Radio
DULUTH, Minn. — NORAD is considering removing two of its 18 Air Force sites from 24-hour alert, saying it would save millions of dollars without compromising its ability to defend against 9/11-style attacks.
A Government Accountability Office report released Thursday said the North American Aerospace Defense Command might take fighter jets in Duluth, Minn., and at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., off 24-hour alert.
According to the GAO report, the change could save $73 million over five years, largely by converting full-time staff in Virginia and Duluth to part-time. The 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth employs 1,044 Minnesota National Guard members.
The proposal appeared to be unrelated to mandatory budget cuts taking effect Friday.
NORAD Lt. Cmdr. Bill Lewis said the GAO report supports an earlier analysis by the Department of Defense. He said the Duluth base remains on alert, adding that there is no timeline for a final decision.
The Minnesota National Guard issued a statement saying that it was aware of the report.
NORAD, based at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., told the GAO the move wouldn't hurt its ability to scramble fighters to intercept hostile or hijacked aircraft. NORAD said it used analyses by computer modeling, a panel of experts and other methods to arrive at that conclusion.
An earlier GAO report said the other NORAD alert sites are in Alaska, Arizona, California (two), Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin.
NORAD is a joint U.S.-Canada command responsible for protecting the skies over both nations and monitoring sea approaches.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.