Lincoln Journal Star: Offutt Aircraft will be Flying Over Lincoln in 2020 After Airport Improvements

Oct 1, 2018
In The News

It may be 2020 before U.S. military aircraft stationed at Offutt Air Force Base begin to show up routinely in the skies over Lincoln.

Before that occurs, the Lincoln Airport will benefit from infrastructure improvements that clear the path for Lincoln to host aircraft from the 55th Wing while its battered old runway at Offutt is rebuilt.

The agreement to secure Lincoln as the 55th Wing's home away from home for about a year includes upgrades for an old maintenance hangar to accommodate larger military aircraft and repair of an airport apron that would be used by the Offutt fleet, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry said.

The upgrades will also include office space in Lincoln. 

Once the runway project at Offutt is completed, those upgraded facilities would be turned back to the Lincoln Airport for its future benefit, the congressman said.

The runway project at Offutt is estimated to cost as much as $100 million and be completed in December of 2020.

Sen. Deb Fischer, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has taken legislative steps to accelerate replacement of the runway, adding language to the fiscal 2019 national defense authorization act that she said was designed to "encourage swift and diligent completion of this important project."

"The committee believes the current effort to design and execute a planned repair or rebuild of the runway is critical and should be executed with the utmost speed, resourcing and diligence," Fischer's language stated. 

"From the beginning, I've worked closely with Offutt leadership and top Air Force officials to keep the project on track," Fischer said. 

The 55th Wing conducts intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and electronic attack missions from the base in Bellevue.

Among its several dozen airplanes is the OC-135B Open Skies Treaty observation aircraft, which flies unarmed observation missions over Russia as well as other nations that participate in the international air observation treaty.

In turn, Russian observation aircraft fly missions over the United States and other participant nations. Host nation representatives are aboard during those observation missions.

"Offutt is an integral part of our national defense infrastructure," Fortenberry said, and it is vital to upgrade its battered runway now.

The 1st District Republican congressman represents both Lincoln and Offutt Air Force Base, along with neighboring Bellevue and is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

The runway replacement project has been a high priority for members of the Nebraska congressional delegation as they sought protection for continued location of the 55th Wing and its 7,000 military and civilian employees at Offutt.

Construction of a new $1.3 billion U.S. Strategic Command headquarters at Offutt has also secured the base's future. 

A long-term bonus from the new runway commitment is that "Lincoln also gets an upgrade to accommodate the aircraft," Fortenberry said.

Among other military aircraft that will be coming to Lincoln: 

* WC-135 Constant Phoenix atmospheric collection aircraft that "sniffs" for nuclear particles in the atmosphere from nuclear tests and accidents.

* RC-135V/W Rivet Joint electronic intelligence collection aircraft that gathers "near real-time" intelligence from electronic emitters such as radio signals, cellphones and radar.

* RC-135S Cobra Ball that collects technical data on adversary ballistic missile launches using optical and electronic means.

* RC-135U Combat Sent that collects intelligence on adversary radars.

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