Duluth-based 148th Fighter Wing loses 24-hour alert status

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For more than a year, those serving the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth knew the unit could lose its 24-hour alert status, and it was confirmed on Monday, WDIO TV reports. The change took effect in June, the station reports.

Northland's Newscenter reports that a spokesperson for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, says the 148th Fighter Wing is one of two U.S. bases, along with Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, that lost the 24-hour alert status.

Officials with the 148th Fighter Wing declined comment to the media.

The change was a cost-cutting move – removing the 24-hour alert status in Duluth and at Langley is expected to save $73 million over four years. NORAD officials had said the move wouldn't damage its ability to scramble fighters to intercept hostile or hijacked aircraft.

Losing the 24-hour alert status would affect 71 of about 450 full-time 148th unit jobs, the Duluth News Tribune reported last year.

The Government Accountability Office in a report earlier this year noted that the cost savings would come from shifting full-time employees to part-time work. The GAO reviewed Defense officials' accounting but did not make a recommendation.

Then-Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., was among those last year who had called on the Defense Department to maintain all the nation’s then-18 existing 24-hour alert status sites.

The 148th Wing provides the U.S. Air Force with F-16s and also maintains the capability to support Minnesota with airmen ready to assist in domestic emergencies, according to the 148th's website.

According to the website, almost 300 airmen returned in 2012 from Afghanistan, where they provided F-16 air support for ground forces.

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