- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Air Force said Thursday it has chosen Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to house a major new command for managing its nuclear arsenal, a decision that could create some 900 jobs in a state still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

Louisiana beat out five other states for the Global Strike Command, which will oversee the nation’s nuclear equipped bombers _ the B-2s and B-52s _ as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Pentagon created the new command last year after several missteps occurred in the handling of its most sensitive materials, including the cross-country flight of a B-52 that was mistakenly armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles without the crew’s knowledge.

Among other things, the Global Strike Command will be responsible for stepping up inspections and creating better tracking systems.

Louisiana lawmakers lobbied hard for Barksdale, which is outside Shreveport, calling the base a good match because it is among the nation’s largest and already is home to nuclear operations, including a B-52 wing.

The Pentagon apparently agreed, saying it chose Barksdale based on its existing nuclear missions, infrastructure and security capacity.

“It’s extremely important,” said Rep. John Fleming, a freshman Republican who represents the district. “This will mean temporary jobs to begin with, contract and construction, and then as many as 1,000 long-term jobs in personnel.”

Lawmakers from competing states expressed disappointment. The other finalists were Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska; F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming; Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana; Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota; and Whiteman Air Force Base in western Missouri.

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said the Air Force “made a huge mistake” in not locating the command at Offutt, which is home to the Strategic Command that has overall military control of the nation’s nuclear weapons.

“The Air Force has missed an opportunity to send the message that our nuclear deterrence missions are a priority,” Nelson said. “This is a cornerstone decision that will impact the world’s perception regarding how serious the United States is” about the security and control of its nuclear programs.

The Air Force said the decision is contingent on a successful environmental impact study.

Loren Scott, a Louisiana State University economist, said the announcement would come as a relief for northwest Louisiana, hit by the closing of two paper mills, the shutdown of a major wind turbine maker and cutbacks at a General Motors plant.

“The area has taken some licks,” Scott said. “It’s an area of the state that needs help.”

With 9,600 employees, Barksdale is the area’s largest employer, he said.

“We’ve been a center for nuclear activity for decades, and now it looks like we will be for decades more,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

The Air Force is also considering Barksdale for a new cyber operations center that could bring about 300 personnel to the base.


Associated Press writers Ken Thomas in Washington and Cain Burdeau in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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