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Associated Press May 11, 2005

Analysts see U.S. bases expendable

Traditionally, leaders assigned task have tended to consider political implications in closing or realigning.

By Donna Cassata

WASHINGTON — Given the opportunity to sit in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s chair for a day, military analysts would draw up a base closure hit list that targets more domestic installations than the Pentagon envisions.

Politics and economics always intrude on a process reviled by congressional delegations and communities that stand to be hurt. Experts solely focused on the needs of the military in a time of fewer defense dollars, the demands of the Iraq war and the push for modernization — with no concern for political implications — would push for a wholesale restructuring of stateside bases.

In Rumsfeld’s place, they would:

•Keep the bases that are going nonstop during wartime and shutter the ones that aren’t.

“Look at the workload,” said Christopher Hellman, an analyst with the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. “If a base isn’t operating, it probably ought to go.”

Despite the hue and cry in Congress about closing bases while the nation is at war, analysts argue that it is an ideal time to see what’s really needed. Previous base closure rounds dealt with hypotheticals and dire descriptions of World War III in Europe; this one is facing the reality of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This is the best time to do it,” Hellman said. “You have a better idea how fast your car is going when you put it on a race track rather than in the driveway.”

•Save money by eliminating duplication and consolidating operations such as training and research.

Each service has its own depot that provides weapons or maintains aircraft. One depot might be sufficient for several of the services. “Maybe use depots for the Army, Navy and Marines,” said Lee Kling, a member of the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Within a service, related operations could be combined. For example, the Los Angeles Air Force Base, established in 1954, serves as the headquarters for the Air Force Materiel Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center. Analysts suggested that a perfect match would be to move the operations to the Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Another possible step is to close the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, which conducts research and development of weapons systems, and shift the work to Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base, which tests and evaluates munitions.

•Get rid of bases as the Navy and Air Force reduce their forces.

The Navy is cutting the number of officers, enlisted and midshipmen by nearly 30,000, from 373,197 last year to 345,300 in 2007. The Navy also plans to eliminate an aircraft carrier.

The Air Force is looking at a reduction of more than 7,000 in personnel by 2011 and envisions a reduction of 25 percent in its fighter aircraft fleet if the Pentagon signs off on a planned buy of 381 F/A-22 Raptors, its stealthy new plane.

“That’s a lot less real estate,” said Paul Taibl, director for policy at Business Executives for National Security and a retired Air Force officer.

Lawmakers and some in the Pentagon have argued against deep cuts in the number of Army bases, citing the need for facilities as the military moves some 70,000 troops and their dependents from Germany and South Korea to the United States.

Rumsfeld, who initially forecast a 20 percent to 25 percent reduction in the 425 domestic bases, indicated last week that far fewer bases are likely to be closed or realigned because of that shift from abroad. The cut may be closer to 7 percent to 12 percent.

Analysts contend that fewer bases could easily handle the returning troops, especially since the rotation will be spaced out over 10 years and many will be moving out to other assignments such as Iraq or Afghanistan.

“Seventy thousand out of 1.4 million is not that big,” Taibl said.

Rumsfeld is completing a hit list that will be submitted to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission on Friday. The nine-member panel must provide its final report to President Bush by Sept. 8.

In less than 10 years, the military has closed 97 major bases and more than 200 minor bases and has realigned 145, with an estimated savings of nearly $17 billion through 2001. The last round of base closures was in 1995.

In the post-Cold War era, the military has moved from bases established to counter the Soviet threat, shifting from the interior to the coasts and from East to West.

Defense Department: http://www.defenselink.mil/brac/

Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation: http://www.armscontrolcenter.org/military/brac/

GlobalSecurity.org: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/brac.htm

 


Copyright 2005, Associated Press