By: Brian Francisco
FORT WAYNE – The nation’s defense is Allen County’s bread and butter, according to a think tank.
The Center for Security Policy says the local economy could lose more than $155 million a year over the next decade if military spending cuts are enacted as scheduled.
Much of the projected dropoff would come from Fort Wayne defense contractors, which manufacture communications and electronic equipment, and from the city’s Air National Guard base. The drain would be felt by a variety of suppliers, the center says in a report issued this week, including those providing bakery and cereal products, food services, fuel and oil, furniture, computer software, screws, hoses and bearings.
The report lists more than 170 products and services the military has contracts for in Allen County.
“We just want to show that it’s going to hit your community,” center spokesman Travis Korson said Tuesday in a phone interview.
“Ultimately, the big guys are going to pull through,” Korson said about local plants operated by Raytheon, ITT Exelis and BAE Systems. “It’s the third- and fourth-tier suppliers for these defense contractors, a lot of these small businesses, that are really going to feel the pain.”
The Center for Security Policy is a non-partisan, non-profit policy group that supports a strong national defense. It gathered its data from federal procurement documents, which pegged military spending in Allen County at $862 million in fiscal year 2010.
Nearly $1 trillion in U.S. defense reductions is planned for fiscal years 2013 through 2021, roughly half of the total in “sequestrations” triggered by last year’s Budget Control Act. The sum represents at least an 18 percent reduction in defense spending, the center reported.
Allen and Whitley counties would be among the five counties in Indiana facing the largest declines. Whitley County, home to Undersea Sensor Systems, could lose nearly $16.4 million a year. The Department of Defense spent $91 million in Whitley County in fiscal 2010.
Six other counties in northeast Indiana – Adams, DeKalb, Huntington, Kosciusko, Steuben and Wells – would lose a combined $2.2 million in yearly military expenditures, according to the Center for Security Policy.
“There is definitely a headwind at the defense industry. I don’t think that’s a secret to anyone,” Tim White, vice chairman of the Northeast Indiana Defense Industry Association, said Tuesday. “There are things we are doing to mitigate it, to manage it.
“Fortunately, most of the companies in Fort Wayne are not specifically tied to a major platform, like the Joint Strike Fighter. That provides a lot of flexibility,” said White, who works for ITT Exelis, which produces communications gear and weather-monitoring instruments. “We also have international sales.”
Bills have been introduced in the Senate and the House to stall defense sequestrations for a year, Korson said.
Even as the United States has withdrawn forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, “there are a lot of threats out there we still need to contend with,” Korson said, citing tensions with Iran, North Korea and China. “I think a lot of people are starting to realize that now.”
As part of the military budget cuts, the Air Force intends to retire A-10 jet fighters flown by three Air National Guard bases, including the 122nd Fighter Wing in Fort Wayne. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, said this week he might consider pursuing legislation to prevent the move.
“If it takes legislation, we may go that route,” Stutzman said Monday.
He said he is working with Rep. Todd Young, R-8th, a member of the House Armed Forces Committee, in an effort to keep A-10 squadron in Fort Wayne. The base has been flying 16 to 18 of the A-10 jets and was scheduled to add a few more.
“What we’re going to push for is to say you should put more A-10s at our Air Guard bases rather than having the A-10s at active military bases,” Stutzman said. “If you want to save money, this makes sense.”
Col. David Augustine, the 122nd Fighter Wing commander, has said the local base costs 28 cents for every dollar spent at an active-duty Air Force base, in part because the fighter wing flies out of Fort Wayne International Airport.
The Air Force wants to replace Fort Wayne’s A-10s with nine to 11 twin-engine propeller planes used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.