WASHINGTON — As shrinking budgets push the US Army (and the other services) to shutter facilities in Europe, the president's European Reassurance Initiative is surging dollars — some for military construction — to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine.
What sounds contradictory like policy schizophrenia is anything but, as explained by Army Assistant Secretary Katherine Hammack, whose portfolio includes energy, installations and the environment. The Army is shuttering obsolete facilities — golf courses, commissaries, radar sites and skeet ranges, some considered World War II remnants — while the reassurance initiative is, "taking a look at the fights we're fighting now, and where we are going in the future."
"We haven't lost any capacity," Hammack told Defense News.
Given shrinking defense budgets, new permanent facilities, or "vertical infrastructure," have been off the table, and Hammack emphasizes modest improvements that get the most value for the dollar. In large part, the idea is to work with allies at their facilities, she said.
"I think our plan for the future more often is this host-nation basing-concept, where we are sharing space where there are facilities already," she said.
Hammack acknowledged the pull to do more, but she said, "The ask is always bigger than the resources."
"When we get together and discuss things, we think about what we can do with what we have," she said. "I was meeting with someone and they said it would be great to have barracks, and my comment was, 'But tents work.' It would be a better investment for us to pour some good pads over there for tents than it would be to build barracks."
The European Infrastructure Consolidation announced last month, will return 15 sites to their host nations, and in the process will save the government about $500 million each year. When the consolidation is over, US European Command will have 17 main operating bases in Europe.
For the Army, that involved a study of the Army's footprint in Europe, which ranked 96 installations and prioritized areas where it could train with allied forces. Grafenwoehr Army Base and Baumholder Army Airfield were graded highly, Hammack said.
That's not to say the Pentagon isn't building buying anything in Europe. Gen. Philip Breedlove, the commander of U.S. Forces Europe, outlined to Congress last month his key construction projects, which include the consolidation of medical facilities at Landstuhl, Germany, various missile defense projects and the relocation of two joint intelligence facilities to Croughton, United Kingdom.
Also last month, the White House detailed its European Reassurance Initiative, a funding package for stepped-up rotations and multilateral exercises, enhancing prepositioned stocks of equipment, and military aid to NATO and non-NATO allies.
For the Army, the plan includes $70 million to improve ranges and training sites at Central and Eastern European military reservation areas.
Its largest military construction project in Europe has been in Romania, on the shared Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base. MK, as it is called, is a major transit hub for the service, with a barracks for soldiers who serve a nine-month deployment there.
Meant to replace the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan as a hub in and out of the Middle East, it involves roughly $50 million in construction, including buildings for customs, baggage and personnel.
In the president's 2016 budget request there is $51 million for vehicle maintenance facility at Grafenwoehr Training Area for the Army's European activity set. The facility would accommodate the latest generation of heavy equipment, which would be permanently stationed in Europe, so that troops could use it for rotational exercises, Hammack said.
More than 50 M1A2 Abrams tanks and M2A3/M3A3 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles rolled into last year, for use during multinational training exercises. Army officials say the plan is to add a brigade's worth of tanks and Bradleys to the region by the end of 2015.
"Instead of units that do rotational training having to draw from their home station set in Fort Hood and move it all the way to the Baltics, they can requisition equipment out of Grafenwoehr, so it's a much shorter travel period."
Consolidating facilities in Europe will yield a savings, but the money will not be plowed back into the budget. This despite a $3 billion maintenance backlog across Army installations, Hammack said.
"The savings are not found money, the savings is a coping mechanism to try to work with a reduced budget," Hammack said.