It’s a problem, especially in light of the fact that the government wants to close that base. The Pentagon has floated the idea of ending the fighter wing and with recent scandals involving tests the whole existence of the base has been called into question. We’ve seen in the past, however, how our representatives in Washington will fight like hell to keep it open.
It’s hard to fault them, but as more and more Tea Party voices call for limits on our spending and a decrease to our federal deficit it’s hard to justify spending so much money on something that’s so obsolete and by the Pentagon’s own words, unnecessary.
I also don’t want Montana to be a target, either of the Russians or some terrorist organization or mad-cat individuals that get hold of a bomb or suddenly get their own ability to launch nukes. I don’t want Montana to be on their map of targets or “accident” sites.
I’d like to get that federal deficit finished off as well, and perhaps reducing our nuclear bases when we know the Pentagon wants to divest itself of them is a good idea. It’s cost the country $35 trillion since the first idea for the Manhattan Project took hold and I wonder how much it’ll cost to improve the antiquated systems the Air Force has in place.
When Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James recently dug into the problems with our missile programs she found airmen that didn’t see the point in what they were doing. As the Missoulian stated this week:
Why is it that the Air Force claims the nuclear mission is its No. 1 priority and yet missile facilities are in poor shape and spare parts are in short supply?
"Some of the things I saw had been of a longstanding nature," she said. "So why had these things not gotten fixed before? It's a good question, and I can't really answer that."
This article discusses these issues involving Malmstrom Air Force Base, the nukes there, and the need for Montana to find long-term solutions and alternatives to our current industries.
America and Montana’s Nuclear Arsenal
Does that mean we should do the same? And what does our nuclear capability consist of anyways?
America's nuclear deterrence capability is comprised of a three-legged triad. This includes:
- Land-Based: Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles like those we have in Great Falls;
- Submarine-Based: Nuclear missiles on long-range subs that travel about the world;
- Air-Based: Nukes on bombers that can fly about where they will and come back if ordered.
It’s that last point that really makes our land-based nuclear missiles so pointless. You see, when a nuke is launched from Montana it’s not coming back, and unless the government has some super top secret program that allows them to blow these birds out of the sky once they’re flying wherever…well, you get the idea.
With nukes on planes and on subs at least you have the option of flying them to their target or going under the seas to get there. There’s subterfuge involved, something that’s sorely lacking with our current land-based nukes.
I’m not expert on nuclear weapons, I’ll be the first to admit that. But is it such a bad thing to think about these issues, to consider how they impact our state, and what can be done about them?
Party Politics and Malmstrom
Their argument that our federal deficit is too large is not only valid it’s spot on and if Democrats refuse to recognize this they will continue to lose in this state. One part of recognizing that is agreeing that federal money being spent on unnecessary things has got to go. How else are you going to get rid of $17 trillion?
The Rein-In Act introduced by Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) in February proposed to cut the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles currently on 24-hour high alert from 450 to 150. That would get us below $5 billion for the program.
Getting under $5 billion is a great idea, but honestly, how many nukes do we need? How many does it take to destroy the world? One, two…ten? I’m no nuclear scientist but you’re telling me we need 450 plus any extra we’ve got on subs and planes not to mention all that’s slated to be destroyed (if that ever happens)?
Who’s pulling whose leg here? This is corruption, greed or plain old incompetence…take your pick. What a waste of taxpayer money! But then I guess you’d have to call the jobs that money supported a waste as well, huh? I wonder how many families were raised on what it took to build all those missiles.
It’s hard to have it both ways when it comes to nukes. I mean, no one really likes the damn things. They’re a necessary evil, and one Montana could do without, or at the very least a diminished capacity of.
Of course Senator Jon Tester is the main roadblock to anything here. Any bill or legislation that harms his baby Great Falls will die in committee, if it even gets that far. What’s so frustrating is Tester’s own inability to see that Great Falls’ reliance upon nukes and military spending is exactly the thing that is keeping entrepreneurial-minded folks from starting businesses and getting that city rolling once again.
How long has Great Falls been in the dumps economically? A long time, and if that was the case with that base getting all that money how is it going to change with that money continuing?
Morale is bad, the job is pointless and our tax dollars are being wasted while fringe political parties get a leg up on us because of our recalcitrance and inability to deal with issues we’d rather not look at. I’m surprised Democrats have managed to gain what they do have in this state. Let’s not even get into whether our power will grow! The real question is will we even be able to keep what we have?
No Jobs in Great Falls
The sad thing is that there’s nothing we can do about this. Far too many of our industries are dependent upon outside influences now and things like profits in other areas of the world can force businesses to close up shop. By pretending that this is not a possibility and refusing to look for alternatives to what we have now is shortsighted at best and downright negligent at worse.
What’s going to happen the next time the Pentagon gets the idea of closing Malmstrom, and this time is serious about it? What’s going to happen if our senior senator isn’t senior enough and that base is closed? What will those 3,472 people do then? What are we going to find that replaces the $31,775 they made on average according to the 2000 Census?
Just like the Air Force has contingency plans for everything involving those nukes sitting under the ground in Great Falls, so too does the State of Montana need contingency plans for dealing with the unthinkable.
The Economic Impact of Malmstrom
Montana should begin studying what plans they have in place for transitioning away from those bases. It's called leadership.
Now, let’s take it from another angle. What about a business owner thinking of locating to Great Falls, perhaps because the base is there and he knows that federal money will keep coming into the economy – what is he supposed to think about that base closing? There are already enough reasons for business not to locate to Montana, do we need to give them more? It’s a thorny issue, I’ll be the first to admit it.
But wow much of the Great Falls economy does the base take up? According to the Great Falls Tribune Malmstrom takes up 1/3 and injects $134.2 million into the economy in just payroll. Most of the rest is related to agriculture, which probably isn’t going to be going anywhere anytime soon.
What other areas of Montana’s economy rely on one entity or organization for a 1/3 of their economy? I’m sure there are many, such as Colstrip or the Bakken region, but is that a good thing? Eggs and baskets are something I’d expect my grandma to talk about – maybe we need more of that kind of talk.
The base in Great Falls is large and contains lots of houses. Is it so farfetched to think the community couldn’t find ways to revitalize that and turn it into something else while also keeping many of the essential air uses the same? I think it could be done.
That’s a great philosophy…for the 19th or even 20th centuries, but it won’t do much when it comes to competing economically on the world stage. I don’t know, maybe Montana isn’t interested in doing that.
Does Malmstrom need nukes? We know the Pentagon wants to close that base. What is the budget of the base each year, what impact would closing it have on the local economy, and what plans do we have for that eventuality?
How can we get jobs into these areas of the state that are relying on old and antiquated industries? Nukes? Are those a benefit to us here in Montana or more of a detriment, and possible target?
Personally I'm tired of relying on the military and the government for jobs and for funds. We didn't used to need all that in Montana. What happened to us?
We need plans for when the government finally decides to deal with that $17 trillion debt. This will mean Malmstrom will be closed or have its flights taken away, as the Pentagon has asked for before.
We can be ready for this or we can be left standing in the wind when that happens. What do you think the best choice is?