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Rumsfeld Reveals Huge Base-Closure Plan

Electric Boat, Quonset Point Facility, near Groton's submarine base, recommended for closure.
by Martin Sieff
Washington DC (UPI) May 13, 2005
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Friday renewed his political offensive to win congressional approval to shut more than 30 major U.S. military bases worldwide and save at least $50 billion.

Rumsfeld told the nine-member Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission that his recommendations to close or realign domestic military facilities across the country would help U.S. military forces both at home and around the world confront the new security threats of the 21st century.

Rumsfeld and his Pentagon planners estimate that their recommendation, if fully implemented, will generate a net savings of nearly $50 billion over the next two decades.

When combined with the anticipated savings from overseas basing realignments, they believe the savings increase to $64.2 billion.

"Our current arrangements, designed for the Cold War, must give way to the new demands of the war against extremism and other evolving 21st-century challenges," Rumsfeld said.

The recommendations would close 33 major bases and realign 29 more. If approved, the ax will swing on such major installations as Fort Monmouth, N.J.; the naval station at Pascagoula, Miss.; Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota; and the submarine base in Groton, Conn.

The closures were sweeping, but Rumsfeld's bark was worse than his bite. He was believed to be considering closing as many as a quarter of all 425 domestic military installations, but he wanted to keep open facilities to house forces being brought home from Europe and South Korea.

"The department is recommending fewer major base closures than had earlier been anticipated," due in part to the return of tens of thousands of troops, the secretary said Friday.

Bases in the West will be hit hard, but some of the biggest facilities in California that were under threat have been spared. Los Angeles Air Force Base and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey stay open.

Beale Air Force Base near Sacramento will lose 179 service positions, but a dozen more bases in the state will close.

The proposed cutbacks will be the fifth stage of a historic process that began during the last era of detente even before the end of the Cold War.

Four previous rounds of base closings and amalgamations eliminated or realigned 451 installations, including 97 major ones, and have saved an estimated $40 million. The cuts Rumsfeld proposed Friday would be carried out over a six-year period starting next year.

Despite the previous four rounds of closures, Rumsfeld felt he had been forced to work with a domestic base infrastructure primarily designed to confront the Soviet Union through the Cold War.

He wants a different domestic force deployment that will be designed to favor future projections of U.S. power towards Asia and the Middle East as well as respond in a more centralized, rapid and cost-effective way to domestic national security threats.

The Pentagon argues that U.S. forces coming home will return to installations better arrayed to train and deploy for possible contingencies around the world.

In broad principle no one argues with that.

There is also a general consensus, at least in theory, on Capitol Hill that the manpower-heavy, massive infrastructure domestic deployments of the Cold War era have long since been out of date, and that they are at best irrelevant and at worst a costly hindrance and distraction from the "fast and agile" operations involving first-class intelligence, 21st-century communications and small, superbly trained Special Forces necessary for anti-terrorist and other security operations at home as well as around the world.

But in practice, the great economic importance of the bases to the states in which they are located has led members of Congress to protect their political bases. Rumsfeld has found political progress on his cutback plan slow and hard.

The need to concentrate on preparing for the Iraq war and then deal with its unanticipated complications also slowed progress. But the sweeping Republican victories in both houses of Congress have given President George W. Bush and his secretary of defense political capital they are using to try and push the big change through.

Rumsfeld's planners looked at the current military value of the bases, the potential savings to be made from closing them and the economic and environmental impact of potential changes.

Pentagon officials say the closures and consolidations that will follow are intended to enhance the military's ability to meet contingency surge or mobilization requirements.

They say they are also retaining installations that have unique capabilities that would be difficult to reconstitute at other locations.

The ambitious changes are aimed at boosting efficiency as well as saving money. They aim to consolidate similar or duplicative training and support functions to improve joint war fighting.

Department of Defense planners also hope the closures will give them the opportunity to transform important support functions including logistics, medicine and research and development by capitalizing on advances in technology and business practice.

But the process still has a long way to go. Rumsfeld's plan will be reviewed by the BRAC Commission, which will seek comments from affected communities.

The Department of Defense has promised to assist those areas with programs such as personnel transition and job-training assistance, local reuse planning grants and streamlined property disposal. The process should be completed by the end of the year.

The closures fit clearly into what has been Rumsfeld's long-term strategy to reshape the structure of the U.S. armed forces. They are neither unprecedented in their scale or direction.

Congress still has to approve the cuts, but though it can reject them in their entirety, it cannot trim or soften them - the usual Capitol Hill procedure to save programs favored by powerful political patrons.

There is bound to be grumbling. Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, last year's Democratic Party candidate for president, has already objected to the closing of the National Air Guard base in Maine.

But in the current political climate, Rumsfeld still looks likely to get these cuts approved.

(Please send comments to [email protected].)

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