Foreign and Defense Policy, Defense

Congress ignores Pentagon’s drawdown abroad to stall domestic military base closures

Image Credit: expertinfantry (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

Image Credit: expertinfantry (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

This weekend, the last of America’s A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft stationed in Europe flew out of Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany for the final time. The US Air Force’s 81st Fighter Squadron is being deactivated after 30-plus years in service, and the aircraft are relocating stateside. This will be the second fighter squadron deactivation at the same base due to ongoing defense budget reductions and strategy shifts.

While Spangdahlem is still open, many US bases in Europe have not been so lucky. There has been a spate of closures and consolidation in recent years, the result of a proactive US military base closure process that has been well underway throughout the past decade overseas.

Below is a list of some of the major base closing in Europe since 2003, by military service:

  • Army: Giesssen (Germany), Hanau (Germany), Darmstad (Germany), Wuerzburg (Germany).
  • Navy: Naval Air Station Keflavik (Iceland), Naval Support Activities Gaeta and La Maddalena (Italy).
  • Air Force: Rhein-Main Air Base (Germany).

Nearly every member of Congress is opposed to closing bases in the United States, but most have no problem supporting a closure overseas. Indeed, claiming that overseas bases should be closed before US bases is a favorite rationale for postponing necessary closures here at home.

But this rationale is starting to run into the reality that our overseas bases have already seen significant cuts. As a recent AEI report summarized, the US Army alone has closed 100 installations in Europe since 2003 and plans on returning an additional 47 installations to host nations by 2015. The Navy has also been consolidating and shedding European bases over the last eight years. The Navy closed an air station in Iceland and Naval Support Activities Gaeta and La Maddalena in Italy. Currently, the Navy is assessing capacity of remaining bases in Spain, Italy, and Greece. Its leaders also plan to review the US Marine Corps installation in Norway. Finally, since 1990, the Air Force has reduced aircraft and forces stationed in Europe by 75%.

Still more cuts are coming to America’s overseas posture. Before he left office, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta directed the Pentagon to explore additional opportunities for consolidation in Europe. Already, DoD is planning to continue reducing the US presence in Europe by approximately 15% over the coming decade.

As the US military shrinks in size, capacity, and capability, it must also reduce its inventory of physical assets. Congress can only postpone what is an overdue domestic base closure process for so long. Budgets are simply falling too fast for the services to pay for the unnecessary operation of excess capacity, particularly as the number of active duty forces falls rapidly.

But pretending that Congress should avoid a domestic base closure round because we need to target overseas bases first simply ignores reality and the real money it is generating as a result of these savings.

One thought on “Congress ignores Pentagon’s drawdown abroad to stall domestic military base closures

  1. BRAC-ing of military facilities on US soil is a one-way proposition. Once the land is gone, it is extremely difficult and expensive to get back, should the need arise. What seems like a good money saving closure or downsizing may be found to be ill-advised ten years after the fact, as strategies change and “pivots” are made. Guam is a good example of that. Down sized in the ’90s, facillities and infrastructure of the time have been released to civilian use or allowed to decay. Now, with the current pivot and the concurrent desires of Okinawa, funding must be found to rebuild and re-equip facilities and upgrade infrastructure that would have been upgraded at far less cost over the intervening years. And this doesn’t include the experienced DOD civilian workforce that was let go in favor of of foreign nationals employed in host nations elsewhere in the Western Pacific.

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