Pentagon seeks more base closures

The Defense Department unveiled its $525.4 billion base budget for fiscal 2013 Monday and asked Congress to authorize not one but two new rounds of base closures, in 2013 and again in 2015.

The department's strategy for requesting a "double BRAC" is a mystery, said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. There is neither precedent nor budget rationale for two rounds of the Defense Base Realignment and Closure process, Courtney said. The Naval Submarine Base in Groton narrowly escaped closure when it was targeted in 2005.

The Pentagon said its infrastructure has to be aligned with the size of its overall military force. By 2017 the Army will shrink by 72,000 personnel, the Marine Corps by 20,000, the Navy by 6,200 and the Air Force by 4,200. There will be more limited reductions in the Reserves and National Guard.

"If you look at the end strength of the Navy versus the land forces, we're talking 6,000 for the Navy. So really, how can you do a broad-brush base realignment program?" Courtney said. "It's going to get, I think, a blistering response at the Armed Services Committee hearings that start this week."

The proposed budget includes cuts and other initiatives that would reduce spending by $259 billion over the next five years and $487 billion over 10 years.

The Navy would receive $13.1 billion less to build ships. Under the proposal, Electric Boat in Groton and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia would still jointly build two Virginia-class submarines next year but only one in 2014.

The budget includes about $4.3 billion for the Virginia-class program, versus close to $4.8 billion this year, since the shipbuilders would not buy long-lead parts for the second submarine in 2014. The plans call for two submarines in 2018 instead of one, keeping the total number ordered by the Navy the same.

Higher costs

Retired Rear Adm. John B. Padgett III said changing the schedule would be disruptive to the shipbuilders and the vendors. The steady stream of work has kept costs low, he added.

"Disruption is the precursor to increased cost," said Padgett, who worked at EB as a vice president for business development and strategic planning. "So ultimately, it costs more to build a ship."

Courtney and U.S. Sens. Joe Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal plan to try to restore the second submarine in the plans for 2014.

"We are concerned about the impact this change could have on the industrial base and our submarine force structure in the years ahead, and look forward to working with our colleagues and the Navy to find an alternative that could address this short-sighted move," they said in a joint statement Monday.

The group met with the chief of naval operations last week and said they were told that at least 11 subs will be homeported in Groton through 2020.

The delegation's statement praised the budget's "strong commitment to the future of our nation's submarine force and industrial base in the face of significant budget pressures."

The budget proposes spending millions to develop a module with missile tubes that could boost firepower on Virginia-class submarines and to continue the research and design work on a new class of ballistic-missile submarines. EB has finished the initial concept work and program plan for the module and is currently designing the ballistic-missile submarine.

The Pentagon recommended delaying the start of construction on the ballistic-missile sub from 2019 to 2021 to save $4.3 billion through 2017.

EB spokesman Robert Hamilton said Monday he couldn't comment on the proposed budget since it is "the first step in a lengthy budget development process that will unfold through the summer and into the fall."

"It would be inappropriate for us to speculate about what the impact of any proposal might be in the meantime," Hamilton said.

Getting ready

Bob Ross, executive director of the state's Office of Military Affairs, said Monday that he was still sorting through the numbers but is concerned whenever there's a discussion of a potential BRAC. "What we'll do is organize our efforts to meet the first BRAC when it gets here, whenever it gets here," he said.

Relative to other states, Ross said he thinks Connecticut "fared pretty well."

Under the proposed budget, military personnel would receive a basic pay raise of 1.7 percent under the proposal but smaller raises after 2014. No changes were proposed for the military retirement system, but the department did recommend that Congress establish a commission to review it.

The Department of Homeland Security's request includes close to $10 billion for the Coast Guard, a 4 percent cut. It fully funds the sixth National Security Cutter and initiates the acquisition of a new polar icebreaker to address the emerging missions in the Arctic.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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