BRAC plan likely to prompt strong fight in Northeast

Defense policy experts and industry representatives expect the Pentagon's recommendation to close 33 major U.S. military installations to have a positive effect on the agency's transformation efforts during wartime, but stressed that affected Northeastern states will likely wage major fights to keep their bases open.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Friday sent to Capitol Hill his recommendations calling for 5 percent to 11 percent cuts in excess military infrastructure. He expects the recommendations to result in $5.5 billion in annual savings and slightly less than $50 billion over 20 years.

"Industry all along has said that base closures are good because it frees up money for procurement," said Pete Steffes, vice president of government policy for the National Defense Industrial Association. He acknowledged the upfront costs of shutting down bases, but said in the long term the savings would be realized. The reduction in bases will help provide long-term savings needed to fund the military's transformation efforts, Steffes said.

But another industry source said he does not see this BRAC round as a great step toward the Defense Department's transformation plan, which strives to make the services work together to create efficiencies. "For example, the Air Force has three bases that handle primary flight training and the Navy has two bases that do the same thing. One of the Navy bases in Florida can train more people so why not take one of the Air Force squadrons and train them at the Navy base?" he said.

"The largest fight will be in the Northeast region," said Barry Rhoads, who heads a defense lobbying group. "Groton [Conn.] will lose 8,460 personnel, Portsmouth [Maine] will lose 4,500, and Ft. Monmouth, N.J., will lose over 5,000 employees."

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said Friday that he would ask the commission to retain the Groton-New London base because of its military value. During the 2004 campaign, Hunter visited the New London area and said he had asked the Pentagon to keep the base off the closing list. His appearance was an effort to bolster Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn., who was in a close re-election contest.

But Stephen Pietropaoli, executive director of the Navy League, a civilian advocacy group, said the submarine base in Connecticut is not needed. The Navy says the diminished size of the submarine force and the efficiency of on-line training are reasons it is not worried about losing Groton.

The Navy's submarine force has diminished from 100 attack submarines and 40 ballistic submarines at the height of the Cold War to its current 55 attack and 18 Trident ballistic missile submarines. The Navy can use virtual training on the waterfront or on board in lieu of using a "brick and mortar school house," Pietropaoli said.

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