Wright-Pat project called critical

By Jessica Wehrman - The Columbus Dispatch

WASHINGTON — The undersecretary of the Air Force said Friday that a proposed $182 million intelligence center at Wright — Patterson Air Force Base is considered a “critical” mission to the Air Force and recommended it be funded without delay.

The first installment of that money — $61 million — was appropriated by Congress last year as part of a bill paying for military construction. That installment, as well as other unspent military construction dollars, are at risk as a result of President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration to put a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump would use military construction dollars to pay for the wall, and the Defense Department last month released a list of projects eligible for being cut.

But Matthew P. Donovan, undersecretary of the Air Force, said Friday that the intelligence mission at Wright-Patterson is considered critical to the Air Force and should be fully funded. He made the remarks during an early morning speech to Dayton leaders in Washington to lobby on behalf of Wright-Patterson and the Dayton region.

Some $112 million of money for Ohio military construction projects appropriated last year could be at risk, including $61 million of the $182 million National Air and Space Intelligence Center, known as NASIC.

“What we have done is gone through and prioritized and what we did was recommend certain projects that could be cut to DoD … and the NASIC one was one that we recommended that they don’t use because of the criticality of the mission,” Donovan said Friday.

In an interview after his speech, Donovan said the Air Force is providing “feedback” to the secretary of defense on which projects shouldn’t be cut.

“NASIC provides sort of a bedrock of the national defense strategy for the Air Force,” he said. “Because we have to know what the threats going to be like and they’re the ones that characterize the threats for us.”

A spokeswoman for Donovan later said while “there is not a prioritized list of projects … there are projects we identified within the overall list as critical to mission.”

Donovan’s remarks to the group, in town for its annual lobbying trip, were reassuring in multiple ways. He also emphasized the importance of the often — endangered Air Force Institute of Technology, an Air Force graduate school at Wright — Patt, saying its mission was viewed as a “critical building block” for the force.

“I know that over the years people have questioned the need for AFIT,” he said “And that is just not the case anymore.”

In the interview, Donovan said “you never say never,” but said AFIT “is so important to the Air Force now and as we align the national defense strategy and the capabilities that I’ve talked about that we have to develop, we’ve got to have a brain trust that’s also within the Air Force.”

Donovan is currently the second-in-command at the Air Force under Secretary Heather Wilson, who will resign in May. He is expected to become acting secretary after she leaves.

By Jessica Wehrman

The Columbus Dispatch

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