- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2012

Defense Department officials are quick to say the formal process of selecting U.S. military bases for closure will not begin until Congress says so.

But people inside the Pentagon already are talking about candidates for the politically charged process that often triggers intense opposition from governors, mayors and local business leaders.

Defense sources say, for example, that the Air Force has too many pilot training centers and can consolidate some to save money. It has retired 500 aircraft since the last round of closings in 2005, yet maintains about the same base infrastructure.

The Army could close some of its 1,000 research-and-development sites and perhaps some of its 11 depots and arsenals. The Navy, which is retiring more ships, might make a bid to condense two East Coast submarine bases into one, in Georgia. Some suggest it could consolidate more warships in San Diego, at the expense of Washington state.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has asked lawmakers for two rounds of the Base Realignment and Closure negotiation (BRAC) process, with the first next year. His pending 2013 budget begins the military’s postwar downsizing by slashing $487 billion over 10 years. Among those cuts are troops, planes and ships.

“Given how significantly the services are reducing capacity in both uniformed people and capital assets, a base closure round is inevitable sometime within the next four years,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.

“The Air Force needs to reduce its infrastructure immediately, and they will keep the heat on Congress to authorize a round eventually,” she said.

“With an Army shrinking by 80,000 active-duty soldiers, a Navy retiring ships faster than it is building them, and an Air Force hemorrhaging people, aircraft and entire units, a base closure round is justified in the near term.”

Excess facilities

The Army is leading the charge.

“Force reductions produce excess capacity, [and] excess capacity is a drain on resources,” said Dave Foster, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

If Congress does not authorize what would be the sixth BRAC since 1988, the Army “will be forced to retain installation infrastructure that will become excess to its requirements and thereby jeopardize spending on forces, training and modernization,” Mr. Foster said.

The Army maintains more than 1,000 research-and-development sites across the country, as well as 11 depots and arsenals. Virginia alone is home to a dozen forts and installations. Only two of the 50 states - Rhode Island and New Hampshire - have no Army bases.

“Have you ever heard of the Picatinny Arsenal?” said Lawrence Korb, a military analyst at the Center for American Progress. “It’s smack in the middle of New Jersey. What is this doing here? There is nothing else here.”

He said the Army has lots of closure candidates, such as Fort Dix, N.J. The Army could consolidate, down to one, the eastern bases for the Green Berets.

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