Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Pentagon will recommend joining elements of different branches of the armed services on some military bases when it announces proposed base closings in upcoming days, defense officials say.

As part of its “joint” forces concept, the Pentagon thinks that having the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines share facilities will reduce costs and improve “combat effectiveness.”

Michael Wynne, undersecretary of defense for acquisition in charge of the base closure plan, said the proposed changes were guided by military “interrelationships, jointness and transformation.”

Defense officials, who expect the proposed domestic base closures, shifts and changes to be made public by Monday, said bases selected for closure were picked based on “military value” and that no target number was established.

“What we’ve tried to do in many ways is … ask ourselves questions about whether our military infrastructures sufficiently support the war fighter as opposed to simply looking at solely the mission of only one service,” said Phil Grone, a second Pentagon official.

The closure list is the first base cutback to reflect the views of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who wants to transform the U.S. military into more streamlined, easier-to-deploy forces.

Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita said that the goal of the base restructuring is to cut from the estimated 20 percent to 25 percent of “excess capacity” in military bases.

The billions of dollars saved will be used to modernize weapons, improve the infrastructure and quality of life for troops and improve military preparedness, the Pentagon says.

The Pentagon says the four Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) rounds since 1988 cut roughly 20 percent of Pentagon bases, about 235, producing a savings of about $17.7 billion through 2001. Recurring savings after 2001 are estimated to be $7.3 billion annually.

The military maintains 425 bases in the United States, plus 70 bases in foreign countries. Additionally, the Pentagon operates 3,535 small facilities in the United States. Pentagon officials say all facilities were considered under the latest round of closings.

Operations such as Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, which the president uses for travel, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where parts of the new U.S. strategic missile defense system is deployed, are considered unlikely to be closed.

As in the past, base closings have triggered fierce lobbying by local officials and members of Congress who seek to prevent the closures and the loss of jobs and money to local communities with bases. Governors from New York to California have lobbied the independent BRAC panel, which will review Mr. Rumsfeld’s plan, not to cut bases in their states.

The domestic base restructuring will coincide with Pentagon plans to shift U.S. bases overseas as part of a global force posture review. U.S. troops and forces are being cut in Europe and in South Korea.

The new overseas force structure calls for setting up several strategic “hubs” — centralized bases — in key locations around the globe that would be used for the rapid deployment of military forces for events ranging from war to humanitarian relief work.

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