Communities that host military installations across the country are bracing for the worst after news broke last week that Senator John McCain is calling for base closures. According to Defense News, the Pentagon supports McCain’s plan.
McCain (R-AZ) cooked up the plan with Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) to be included in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
“The Pentagon’s new assistant defense secretary for energy, installations and environment, Lucian Niemeyer, said the Department of Defense backs their proposal to launch a base realignment and closure, or BRAC, process,” reports Defense News.
Lucian Niemeyer, newly appointed assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment, offered written testimony in his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in support of base realignment and closure (BRAC). He described BRACs as an “objective way to improve our force across all components, while freeing up resources over the long term for higher military priorities.”
“For us, it’s not just a matter finding efficiencies; it’s a matter of improving military value and effectiveness and lethality of our forces,” Niemeyer said at a Heritage Foundation forum. “That’s why we continue to push hard and we support the Senate’s attempt to try to get a BRAC authorization started in 2019 [through] the [National] Defense Authorization Act.”
Defense News reported that under McCain and Reed’s plan “the list of potential base closures and realignments would be compiled by the DoD and reviewed by the GAO before it is certified by the president and submitted to Congress by the fall of 2019. There would be a 60-day public comment period and, finally, an up or down vote by Congress.”
Some communities are more vulnerable to base closing than others.
Just last week, Air Force officials withdrew an Environmental Assessment related to Air National Guard supported training for visiting units known as Operation Snowbird at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Effective September 30, 2017 Operation Snowbird support and operations at Davis-Monthan will cease.
A small group of very vocal anti-military activists in Tucson have attacked the United State Air Force on a nearly monthly basis. With an anti-military minded City Council, and a lawsuit happy Pima County Board of Supervisors, David Monthan has survived in hostile territory.
Despite the hostile environment, and the lack of support from senators McCain and Jeff Flake, Davis Monthan ‘s total economic impact in Fiscal Year 2015 amounted to over $1.5 billion,” according to an Economic Impact Analysis report released in 2016.
Last week, the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance (SADA), called on residents to “save training and jobs in Southern Arizona!” The group reported in an email that budget cuts “in the Department of Defense (DOD) could mean the loss of important training programs at our local Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site (WAATS) in Marana.”
THE SADA email read in part:
In 2013, the Army Aviation Restructure Initiative (ARI) proposed to transfer all Apache helicopters from the Army National Guard and US Army Reserve to the regular Army in response to sequestration and a shrinking DOD budget. Our WAATS is 1 of 4 National Guard aviation training sites and the only training site with proven attack aviation training experience. Following the 2013 recommendation of the National Commission on the Future of the Army (NCFA), half of the Attack Reconnaissance Battalions (ARB) were removed thus eliminating Apache training. With only 6 ARBs remaining, and the proposal to eliminate two more, WAATS is a training site at risk. Eliminating the remaining ARB at WAATS would threaten the existence of the facility that not only houses the Apache pilots, but also the maintenance crews and support staff necessary for operations, in addition to a unit from Singapore.
Davis-Monthan Economic Impact Equals $1.5 Billion
There would be two significant impacts:
- Should the 1-285th ARB at WAATS be deactivated, there would be a loss of 507 positions with a combined economic impact of $147 million.
- Our national defense would also be weakened as the U.S. Army is experiencing an unprecedented pilot shortage and the 1-285th can deploy immediately, and this ability would be eliminated should the group be deactivated.
Why should the Army not deactivate the 1-285th?
- The Singapore Peace Vanguard has invested $20 million in assets to train on Apaches at WAATS. Should the battalion no longer exist, the Singapore Peace Vanguard is unlikely to remain
Arizona is the number one place for flying missions because:
- 360 days of flying weather
- Access to the Goldwater Range, a restricted airspace live-fire range the size of New Jersey in southern Arizona
- Vast amount of training space
SOUTHERN Arizona is the number one place for flying missions due to:
- Southern Arizona-based installations work and train together
– Training between Ft. Huachuca RPAs, DMAFB A-10s, 162nd Wing F-16’s, Luke AFB and MCAS-Yuma F-35s, and Apaches at WAATS reflect real world climate, terrain and battle situations
- The Pima County Dark Skies ordinance further expands the training opportunities for aviation
- 360 days and nights of flying weather
- Access to the Goldwater Range
- Vast amount of training space
- The ability to train in Arizona is incomparable to other parts of the country
- Our current international affairs require our military to be fully operational and eliminating experienced aviation positions with combat-proven skills weakens our nation’s defense
- The Army is already unable to keep up with pilot training for the Regular Army, Army National Guard, and Foreign Military Partners, and retraining currently qualified Apache pilots in the National Guard and placing Apaches in locations with no trained pilots sets back our ability to deploy for many years
SADA has called for “county and municipal representatives, as well as business, and civic organizations to “write letter” to McCain’s legislative liaison Austin Kennedy.
While letters might not hurt, Capitol Hill insiders have long been critical of SADA and local governments for failing to get “boots on the ground” in D.C. That failure has sent a signal to fence sitting senators that reductions and BRACs are welcome.
Vulnerable states like Arizona still have hope however. House Armed Services Committee chair
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, “quashed a pro-BRAC amendment during a floor debate on the House defense policy bill in July,” according to Defense News.
Because the Army and Air Force have spent extravagantly on disasters like the F-35, their installations are more likely to fall victims to BRACs than Navy installations.
“Military leaders have pushed for another BRAC round since 2013, arguing that their current domestic footprint is too large given reductions in force size and equipment modernization in recent years. The DoD estimated under the last administration that it could close 22 percent excess capacity for a savings of $2 billion or more annually by 2027,” reported Defensive News. “In any case, almost none of that excess capacity is in the Navy, with most in the Army and Air Force, Hunter noted. He suggested lawmakers with ties to naval facilities may as a result find it easier to vote for a BRAC round.”
In his testimony, Niemeyer said that BRACs would allow “ideal base utilization, greater military effectiveness, and economic growth for defense communities around the country suffering from years of uncertainty.”
For communities like Tucson the discussion about BRACs increases uncertainty.