AIR FORCE secretary says Tinker included in long-range plan

Saturday, July 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The secretary of the U.S. Air Force says he will not recommend Tinker Air Force Base for closure.

Secretary James Roche said the Air Force has too many bases, but he praised Tinker's work force and said the base is included in his long-term plan.

Roche visited Tinker on Friday _ his first visit to an Air Force installation since becoming secretary earlier this year.

``One of the reasons I wanted to come here first is that I believe our depots require good long-range planning,'' he told The Daily Oklahoman.

Tinker is one of three Air Force air logistics centers. Its primary function is depot maintenance on aircraft.

The Bush administration favors closing more military installations and slashing programs to help pay for expensive high-tech weaponry. Figures show $3 billion could be saved by eliminating 25 percent of bases.

Last week, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mike Ryan told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Air Force is ``over-based.'' He said the Air Force has saved from $4 billion to $5 billion per year because of previous closures.

Roche said he wants Tinker and the other logistics centers left alone.

``My point of view as secretary of the Air Force is that I want a long-range plan for the three air logistics centers we have,'' he said.

The military has gone through four rounds of base closures since the 1980s. Oklahoma has remained unscathed during each round. Before the last round was halted in 1995, 97 bases had been closed.

The next round, if approved, is expected in 2003.

Sen. Jim Inhofe arranged Roche's tour of Tinker, the second arranged tour this year involving key players in any closure effort. Inhofe accompanied Sen. John Warner, R-Va., on a statewide tour of military bases in March.

Warner was chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee and pledged his support to Tinker. But when Senate Republicans lost their majority status earlier this year, Warner lost his chairmanship.

``My feeling is if we can get them to see how well we perform, that helps us a great deal,'' Inhofe said.

Roche was a corporate executive with defense company Northrop Grumman Corp. He now oversees a military branch that includes about 700,000 men and women and an annual budget of $71 billion.