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Pentagon to Request Two New Rounds of Base Closures

Jan. 25, 2012 - 09:22PM   |  
By KATE BRANNEN   |   Comments
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Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to request, as early as Jan. 26, two new rounds of military base closures in the United States as part of the Pentagon budget-cutting process, according to defense sources.

Panetta is scheduled to brief reporters at 2 p.m. ET Jan. 26 on how the Defense Department will begin cutting $487 billion from projected spending over the next 10 years to meet the initial spending caps in the Budget Control Act.

To close or consolidate military bases in the United States requires legislation from Congress to create a bipartisan Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC), which then studies the problem and makes recommendations to the president and the defense secretary.

The last round of BRAC took place in 2005 and the changes it implemented were only completed in this past fall.

The new requests would seek authorization for the first BRAC in 2013, to be followed by another in 2015, one source said. The two new rounds of closures could reap savings in five to eight years, sources predict, but would cost money up front.

Closing bases is hugely expensive in the short-run, one former Pentagon official said. There are the costs of relocating people and equipment, plus the costs of shutdown and the associated environmental impacts. Proposed base closings often are contentious, too, as legislators fight to keep jobs and spending in their districts.

“It’s going to be a tough sell,” a defense source said.

However, others see additional base closures as logical because the services are expected to cut tens of thousands of troops in the coming years.

In September 2010, retired Gen. Roger Brady, then commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, said the Pentagon should close more bases, an opinion rarely voiced publicly by military officials.

“There's big money there,” the general said at the time. “We have to have a BRAC where we actually close bases.”

Base closures could hit Army and Air Force installations hardest, because of the other cuts the Pentagon is planning, one industry source said.

Current plans, put in place before the Budget Control Act was passed in August, call for the Army to shrink from 547,000 troops to 520,000 by 2016. Most people expect that number to fall even further, possibly to 490,000 active duty soldiers, as part of an overall strategic shift. In a sign of changes to come, Panetta recently announced plans to withdraw two of four BCTs in Europe, starting in October.

Fewer soldiers require fewer bases.

With the Air Force, base closures could be tied to the type of aircraft the Pentagon decides to divest.

For example, if the Defense Department decides to retire its B-1 Bomber fleet, it could make sense to close the bases devoted to that aircraft, one defense analyst said.

While overseas bases could also face closure, the Pentagon does not require a congressional commission to make those recommendations.

In 2005, the BRAC commission recommended the Pentagon begin its next round of base closures in 2015.

Since the last round of BRAC, the Pentagon has closed several installations and consolidated a number of service-specific bases into joint installations.

For example, in New Jersey, McGuire Air Force Base, Fort Dix and Naval Air Station Lakehurst have been combined to form Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. The nearby installations now share administrative and support facilities.

The base closure announcement is part of a much broader effort to cut projected defense spending over the next 10 years. The Defense Department, according to sources, will also seek a commission to recommend changes to military retirements and other benefits.

On Jan. 26, Panetta, along with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is scheduled to unveil some of the details from the Pentagon’s 2013 budget.

The Pentagon’s full five-year spending plan will not be made public until Feb. 13, when the White House sends its budget request to Congress.

The Pentagon’s base budget is expected to be $525 billion, with an additional $82 billion provided for overseas contingency operations, which includes funding for troops in Afghanistan.

The base budget number is directly shaped by the Budget Control Act’s cap on security spending, which is set at $686 billion for 2013. That has to cover funding for the Defense Department as well as the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

To meet these spending caps, the Pentagon is cutting some programs while boosting funding in other areas.

As the budget rollout gets closer, details of the Pentagon’s decisions continue to emerge.

The Army plans to cancel its Humvee recapitalization effort, known as the Modernized Expanded Capacity Vehicle, an industry source confirmed.

The Air Force plans to cancel a number of aircraft programs as it shifts focus back to core missions, including long-range strike missions. The service is expected to cancel the C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft program, a joint effort between Alenia and L-3 Communications and a Huey helicopter recapitalization effort, known as the Common Vertical Lift Support Platform.

The Air Force is also poised to stop production of one variant of the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk, a high-altitude reconnaissance drone.

Marcus Weisgerber contributed to this story.

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