Fort Report: Offutt Update
I hear it over and over again: “I was stationed at Offutt. We fell in love with Nebraska. After our service commitment, we decided to make it our home. We love it here.” That love and pride are returned by Nebraskans.
Located just south of Omaha in Bellevue, Offutt Air Force Base is home to the United States Strategic Command (or USSSTRATCOM), as well as the 55th Wing of the Air Combat Command. Built in 1918 at the end of WWI, Offutt is not some relic of a bygone era. In the aftermath of the World Trade Center bombings, President George W. Bush was taken via Air Force One to Offutt to serve as Commander-in-Chief from USSSTRATCOM, whose own mandate has expanded well beyond strategic nuclear deterrence and strike capabilities to include cyber, space, and electronic deterrence.
With Offutt so critical to the success of both USSSTRATCOM and the 55th Wing, it is essential that it receive the resources it needs. Several years ago, the Offutt runway was in dire need of major repair. Having endured the repeated impact of 50-ton planes for over 75 years, the runway was literally crumbling. The risk that pieces of runway concrete would get sucked into a plane’s engine was so great that teams of Offutt personnel had to walk the runway every two hours to pick up the loose concrete. With 26% of the Offutt airfield at risk for pavement failures, there was legitimate worry about the operability of future command functions.
In late 2015, in coordination with the Nebraska delegation, a task force was created to pursue a runway upgrade process. After funds were secured, it served as an ongoing evaluation process. Now there’s a silver lining in that broken runway. This week, the Air Force confirmed to me that the Offutt runway will now be fully replaced after decades of patches. This welcome adjustment from repairing the existing runway to a complete replacement with modern design and materials will improve the 55th Wing’s mission effectiveness and provide taxpayers with extended cost-savings in operations and maintenance for decades to come.
As a critical part of our national defense infrastructure, the 55th Wing’s OC-135B aircraft conduct reconnaissance missions out of Offutt in support of the Open Skies Treaty, a 34-member global agreement that enables unarmed observation of signatory compliance with international nuclear arms agreements. On the heels of revelations of Russian violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty––a pillar of global stability for three decades––these sorties have taken on added importance in ensuring Open Skies Treaty compliance and helping avoid a new arms race. The advanced age and maintenance issues of the OC-135B aircraft, however, have negatively affected the Air Force’s ability to fully execute the mission of the Open Skies Treaty. In response, last year, I joined with members of the Nebraska Congressional delegation to secure funding for the OC-135B Aircraft Replacement Program as part of the 2019 Defense Appropriations Act.
On the wings of the OC-135B replacement, USSSTRATCOM’s beautiful new headquarters at Offutt, and now the decision to completely replace the Offutt runway, the courageous men and women who serve our nation from Offutt Air Force Base will now have the facilities, equipment, and infrastructure needed to keep our country safe now and into the future.
A new runway may not be groundbreaking news in Washington, but’s it’s an important part of our national security infrastructure. And it’s getting done.