FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The next defense secretary will likely have to decide on a series of Army base closings to meet the challenge of looming military spending cuts, a top Army budget official said Wednesday here at the Association of the U.S. Army Winter Symposium.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has already pushed the revival of the Base Re-Alignment and Closure Commission, which was a vehicle for shutting down bases in the past.
“We’ll have to see what the new secretary says” about the policy that would hit home with members of Congress, said Army Maj. Gen. Thomas W. Spoehr, the Army’s G-8.
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) was expected to be confirmed by the Senate to succeed Panetta despite fierce opposition by Republicans. He has yet to stake out a firm position on base closings, but Spoehr said a revival of BRAC was a strong possibility.
Under the BRAC process, the Defense Department would propose a list of base closings and the appointed BRAC would review the list, hold hearings, and come up with a final proposal for shutting down facilities.
Spoehr broached the possibility of a BRAC revival after his AUSA Winter Symposium speech in which he pushed back against a small pool of critics in Congress who have charged that the Army and other services have been blowing the budget crisis out proportion.
“We’re doing a lot of what-ifs at the Pentagon,” Spoehr said of the cuts that would be necessary, depending on the actions of the White House and Congress. “We’re doing what-ifs on top of what-ifs,”Spoehr said.
Spoehr warned of potential cuts coming from three directions — a continuing resolution in Congress that would cut military funding, proposed cuts to the $88 billion account for Overseas Contingency Operations in Afghanistan and other areas, and sequestration, which would cut $500 billion in defense cuts over 10 years.
“Each of these would be a challenge,” Spoehr said. “Together, they are disastrous.”
The Army stands to lose $18 billion from its operations and maintenance budget which would result in “about 78 percent of our Army forces experiencing a readiness decline,” Spoehr said.
One area that would likely be protected is the Army’s role in the White House plan to shift assets to the Pacific to bolster allies in the region and counter the rise of China, Spoehr said. “We’ll continue with that kind of emphasis” which has the support of Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of Staff, and Army Secretary John McHugh, Spoehr said.
Spoehr warned that the country faces a very different threat climate than it did when the nation similarly cuts its defense budget after the Cold War and the Vietnam War.
“The difference is that we’re still in conflict” in Afghanistan while facing major threats in Africa and from Iran and North Korea, Spoehr said. In contrast to past drawdowns, “there is no peace dividend” to be found in the current political climate, Spoehr said.