More than $500 million in facility upgrades planned for Cannon

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

There’s little difference between the big, empty fields at Cannon
Air Force Base and big, empty fields you’d see at random places across
eastern New Mexico.

But that’s all about to change in a big way.

For Cannon Air Force Base to survive and thrive in its new mission
for Air Force Special Operations Command, those empty fields must be
renovated to handle gunships much larger than the fighter jets that
preceded them at Cannon and Melrose Air Force Range.

At least two new dormitories, 422 housing units and four aircraft
hangars are expected to be built over the next five years. Gerald
O’Brien, chief of engineering flight for the 27th Special Operations
Civil Engineer Squadron, said quantities can change at any time,
depending on Congressional funding. But right now spending is estimated
to reach $536 million by 2015 for mission support and quality-of-life
projects.

That’s not only a boost for homeland security. It’s also pumping millions into the local economy

O’Brien said in the past two years, 80 percent of $100 million in projects at Cannon has been paid to local work crews.

At least three squadrons are to arrive at Cannon this year:

• The 16th Special Operations Squadron will handle the AC-130H. Mark
Durham, deputy director for AFSOC public affairs at Hurlburt Field in
Florida, said the squadron will bring in about 180 personnel, not
including maintenance.

• The 33rd Special Operations Squadron will handle the MQ-9 Reaper.

• The 20th Special Operations Squadron will handle the CV-22 Osprey.

Durham said the numbers for the 33rd and 20th squadrons have not
been finalized, and plans are in the works for two more still-unnamed
squadrons to be added in August and December.

O’Brien said eight hangars have been approved for construction, and
another three to five are expected to be approved by the Office of the
Secretary of Defense.

In many cases, existing buildings will be remodeled. For example,
O’Brien said, Hangar 109 will receive a metal extension of
approximately 30 feet — known on the base as a “clamshell extension” —
that will allow an aircraft the size of an AC-130 to fit in the hangar.

Col. Steve Hoarn, Air Force Special Operation Command’s director of
Installations and Mission Support, said 27th Special Operations
Commander Col. Tim Leahy has been actively looking at how buildings can
be re-used, because “we’re taxpayers too, and we can’t do everything we
want.”