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The Honolulu Advertiser May 11, 2005

Isle bases may grow as military realigns

By Dennis Camire and John Yaukey

WASHINGTON — Many communities on the Mainland are worried about losing some of their military installations, but Hawai'i can look forward with some confidence to the Pentagon's release Friday of the list of bases it wants to close or realign.

Defense observers expect realignments to be emphasized in this round of BRAC, or base realignment and closure. A realignment typically entails shifting personnel and equipment, possibly to consolidate similar missions, rather than closing an entire installation.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants to transform the military to better face modern threats such as terrorism, and the Pentagon is expected to release a list of recommendations to the BRAC commission by the end of the week.

That could mean the Pentagon could recommend more military units for Hawai'i and even indicate that another Navy aircraft carrier group should be based in the Pacific.

Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., said Hawai'i is becoming the preferred destination for much of America's military because it's closer to the western Pacific and Indian Ocean.

"If you are at a military base in a place like New England or the upper Midwest, you're facing real problems now because the (Cold War) threat you were put there to address is gone," Thompson said. "On the other hand, if you're in Hawai'i or Guam, now is the time to buy real estate."

Christopher Hellman, a defense analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, said the Pentagon is emphasizing the Asia-Pacific region more.

"That leads one to believe then that facilities in Hawai'i are going to continue to receive greater use rather than less use," he said.

One hint of BRAC's possible impact on Hawai'i and Guam came from the independent Overseas Basing Commission, a group created by Congress. The commission recommended in a preliminary report last week that an additional carrier be moved to the Pacific but didn't say where it should be based.

Alton W. Cornella, chairman of the overseas commission, said that although the final report isn't due until August, the commission believed an early report was critical so quality-of-life and other issues related to Guam and Hawai'i could be addressed in the BRAC process.

"That would basically be anything they would want to ask us regarding probably the ability of (Hawai'i and Guam) facilities to support whatever might be moved there," said Cornella, a member of the 1995 BRAC commission. "That doesn't mean we won't offer a recommendation."

But it's the independent nine-member BRAC commission that will make the final decisions based on the Defense Department's recommendations.

The overseas basing panel's report also warned of Hawai'i's high costs for military basing, including those for a carrier group.

"That is not saying that Hawai'i can't handle it," said commission er H.G. "Pete" Taylor, a retired Army lieutenant general. "It's a known fact that costs in Hawai'i are fairly significant, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't go there."

Thompson said that while he didn't believe the Defense Department would announce anything about another aircraft carrier for the Pacific in the base-closure process, "there may be some indirect acknowledgement of the possibility in the choices they make" in their recommendations.

Reopen barbers point?

Sen. Dan K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i, has said that as part of a possible plan to base a carrier here, the Navy could spread the ship's aircraft among several Hawai'i bases. That could include the Barbers Point Naval Air Station, closed in 1999 through the BRAC process.

Defense expert John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense and security Web site, said it is "entirely possible" that the Defense Department's recommendations could include a change this time around to allow Barbers Point to be reopened to some degree.

Hellman also said it was not unprecedented for military bases that have not yet been put to good reuse to be reoccupied by the Defense Department or other federal agencies.

"I don't know what Barbers Point has got out there, but if they have flown planes in and out before, they have the basic infrastructure to fly planes in and out again," he said. "It's certainly not inconceivable."

Thompson said another likely base closing and realignment possibility was for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, to close and for the Pearl Harbor shipyard to pick up some of that activity.

"The naval shipyard in Honolulu is not what you would call a low cost provider, but the simple reality is that our military focus has shifted to the western Pacific," he said. "There is no point in getting low cost services from a place where you don't need the forces. You need to go where the military is needed."

Another sign of Hawai'i's continuing military importance is in the Army's $1.5 billion plan to transform a 25th Infantry Division brigade into a Stryker unit and the Air Force's plan to base a squadron of eight C-17 cargo planes at Hickam Air Force Base this year. To help those projects and others in Hawai'i, the Pentagon is requesting more than $274 million from Congress for military construction in the state next year.

Large list looms

The 2005 BRAC round is expected to be as large as the previous four rounds combined. As soon as the Pentagon releases its recommendation, the BRAC commission will start analyzing it and making changes where it deems appropriate before submitting a final list to the president by Sept. 8.

The list of recommended closures and realignments will be even harder to change than previous ones, when 90 percent of the recommendations were enacted. This BRAC round, the first since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was set up to give the defense secretary more control over what is finally cut and restructured than any previous round.

The day the list is released, the Pentagon will post it on a Web site along with information for federal employees whose jobs might be affected.

Starting Monday, the BRAC commission is scheduled to begin a week of hearings on Capitol Hill to question top Pentagon officials about how the list was assembled. The commission will then hold a series of summer field hearings and base visits before reporting to the president. He and Congress must approve or reject the entire list — making no changes.

 


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