As Raptors arrive, officials dismiss critics
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ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE - The U.S. Air Force on Wednesday stationed its first squadron of stealth fighters outside the contiguous United States, saying the Alaska base is an ideal gateway to Asia and Europe.
It was standing-room only as earplug-wearing onlookers craned their necks to see the touchdown of the F-22 Raptor, a super-cruising fighter that officials say is unmatched by any other aircraft.
Eight of the stealth fighters are now stationed at the Anchorage base. When Elmendorf's two squadrons are complete, the 40 planes - including two reserves for each squadron - will make up more than a fifth of all the Air Force's Raptors.
The reason for that is Alaska's unique strategic location, said Gen. Paul Hester, commander of the Pacific Air Forces. Its easy access to Asia and Europe make Alaska an ideal location to house the most deadly tool in the box, he said.
Planes are now being test flown at other bases, with one other combat squadron stationed at Langley Air Force Base, Va.
The Air Force also announced Wednesday it had signed a production contract with Lockheed Martin to add 60 Raptors to the Air Force by December 2011, which will complete plans to buy 183 total planes.
Among those on hand for Wednesday's welcoming ceremony was U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who noted he has worked on the program since its inception in 1981.
Stevens said recent criticism of the program - that it's overpriced and unnecessary in the age of terrorism because there is no other air power in the world that can challenge the U.S. - is dated and off-base. He said the Air Force needs the cutting-edge technology of the Raptor to keep America secure.
"Rather than asking who we're going to fly the F-22 against, we should ask who's going to fly against the F-22," he said.
Critics also claim many of its features, such as its stealth capability, were included to showcase American ingenuity rather than to build a practical, modern-day fighter.
But Lt. Gen. John Bradley, chief of the Air Force Reserve, said the Raptor represents a practical need to keep America's edge as other countries continue to develop their own air prowess.
"We need this aircraft badly today, but we need it even more badly for the future," he said. "It's a capability that no one else has and this is going to give us air superiority for years to come."
Thousands without Internet in Anchorage
ANCHORAGE - Thousands of Anchorage-area GCI customers have been without high-speed Internet access since Saturday because of a software failure, a company spokesman said Wednesday.
David Morris said residents in the greater Anchorage area have experienced intermittent online access because of a software failure that corrupted a GCI database. An exact number of affected customers wasn't available.
The corrupted database resulted in various routers being assigned duplicate IP addresses, causing them to shut down, he said.
"It's like home addresses where you get your mail," he said. "But if they get more than one address the router will fail."
Only the company's high-speed server was affected, he said.
He said the company's priority was getting the network restored, and by Wednesday it had not been able to determine the reason for the software failure.
"It was a corruption in the database, but we don't know its cause," Morris said.
Some Mat-Su customers may have been affected, he said, but outages in Fairbanks, Sitka and Kodiak were because of construction and were not related.
The company hasn't decided whether it will bill customers for the period of the outage, Morris said. He said the company expected the outage to be resolved by late Wednesday.
Fairbanks voters have final say in sales tax
FAIRBANKS - A sales tax proposal for the Fairbanks North Star Borough will go to voters following a narrow victory in the assembly Tuesday.
If approved by voters in October, the tax would hit pocketbooks next summer.
The proposed tax - a first for the borough in two decades - would automatically lower property taxes.
The measure passed 5-4 in the assembly, with supporting members saying the tax would keep borough revenue steady while reducing the tax burden faced by businesses and homeowners.
Assembly member Mike Musick opposed the measure, saying a move toward a "regressive" sales tax would offer millions in collective tax breaks to the Fort Knox gold mine and large retail outlets. He said it would result in collecting less tax revenue from the trans-Alaska pipeline as well.
"It's going to be up to the community taxpayers to make up that loss," he said.
But those who supported the plan said the community should decide how it should be taxed for services provided.
"I think the voters of this community can decide for themselves," assembly member Nadine Winters said.
The proposal calls for a winter tax rate of up to 2.5 percent, and the rate would double in the summer.
It would apply to most goods and services, but would exempt some items including groceries, fuel, medical bills, receipts from nonprofits and apartment rentals.
Senior citizens and fully disabled residents could apply for a year-end $100 tax refund under the plan.
If approved, the proposal contains a sunset clause that calls for voters to reauthorize the tax in five years.