Niagara Falls, NY - With about three thousand full and part time jobs, the importance of the Niagara Falls airbase has been stressed for years. And now with cutbacks for our nation's military, there are lingering questions about the long term future of the facility. That's why base supporters are gearing up even as a new mission arrives.
The change for the Niagara Falls Air base comes with the conversion to operation of the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper drone which is already being operated by the National Guard at Hancock Field in Syracuse. The 107th Air National Guard unit at the Falls already has pilots in training as they changeover next month from a previous mission of flying C-130 cargo planes. It saves the unit but now its smaller as Colonel John Higgins points out "We're looking to train up in this mission and now won't have to re-convert again to a new mission for 10 to 20 years. We lost about 220 personnel with going from the C-130 aircraft to the MQ - 9 remotely piloted aircraft. So we'd love to get a further mission."
The Niagara Military Affairs Council with its new logo fears there could be more potential pain as the Pentagon pushes a new round of base closings, or BRAC as its known, perhaps in 2017. The base barely survived past rounds and as John Cooper of NIMAC notes "Every community loves their base. But it really comes down to military value. What we bring to the table for the defense of our nation."
Some feel Niagara as a border base could pick up more Homeland Defense missions or even a cybersecurity role with tie-ins to UB and other local colleges. But the consultant hired by Niagara County to help boost the base, former BRAC Chair Anthony Principi, says Washington is already cutting costs. Principi says "Right now there's a BRAC below the radar screen. Defense can do things. They can move active forces, they can move aircraft. They don't need a BRAC to do that. If the Air Force is desperate to move people below the radar screen, that doesn't help Niagara at all. That's another reason for everybody to be working hard to educate the Pentagon as to what is up here and what can be up here."
U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins also spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to support the air base and call for the Department of Homeland Security to locate a new Customs and Border Patrol station at the base.