The U.S. Army would save up to $5 billion from a new round of base closures, senior Army officials told lawmakers Tuesday as defense cuts threaten the service's ability to fight another major war.
Secretary of the Army John McHugh told members of the House Armed Services Committee that the services would cut up to 20 percent of its facilities as part of the Pentagon's proposal for a new round of Base Realignment and Closure.
"The figures we show right now in the continental United States is approximately 15 to 20 percent in excess of facilities," McHugh said during a March 25 hearing.
BRAC is unpopular with Congress since base closures impact local businesses that surround military installations.
Army leaders point out that the service cannot afford to fund unneeded facilities as the Army prepares to make drastic cuts to its active ranks. The Pentagon's fiscal 2015 defense budget, which does not include cuts under sequestration, will reduce the active force to a size of 440,000 to 450,000 by 2019.
But sequestration cuts scheduled to occur in 2016 will likely force the Army to reduce the active force to 420,000, the National Guard to 315,000 and the Army Reserve to 185,000, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told lawmakers.
"The size of our Army at this level of funding will not allow us to execute the defense strategic guidance and in my opinion puts us in doubt of our ability to execute even one prolonged, multi-phase, major contingency operation," he said.
Defense Department budget officials estimate that a new round of BRAC would cost up to $6 billion but result in a significant cost savings of about $2 billion per year for several years.
"How long would that $6 billion be going out before we started realizing the savings? Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., asked.
McHugh said the Army's portion would be less expensive than the DoD-wide, $6 billion figure, though he did not get specific.
"We would certainly target a net [savings] of $1 billion per year," over roughly five years, he said.
The Pentagon conducted a BRAC in 2005 which resulted in a reorganization of forces that restructured the Army into centers of excellence. One example was the Armor Center moving from Fort Knox, Ky., to Fort Benning, Ga., next to the Infantry Center to become the Maneuver Center of Excellence.
"The next BRAC wouldn't be quite that drastic," Odierno said. "It would really be targeted toward limiting the excess infrastructure that we have."
The savings from a BRAC would significant, Odierno said.
"One billion dollars is three Army BCTs," he said. "It's equivalent to two [Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile] batteries or … 1,500 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles."
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and several other lawmakers, expressed concern over the Army's deteriorating readiness and its ability to respond to a major contingency.
Under the 2015 budget proposal, "it will take us three years to get the end strength levels then start to reinvest in readiness and modernization," Odierno said.
But projected sequestration cuts, scheduled to occur in fiscal 2016, will mean Army leaders will have to shrink the active force to 420,000.
"The cuts are so severe that it will specifically go after readiness, so it will take us longer to recover. And when we do finally recover it will be FY 2020 to 2023," Odierno said. "But the problem becomes we are now a smaller Army, so the issue becomes with a smaller Army -- although it's ready and capable-- is it big enough to do a prolonged, long-term [contingency operation]?"
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com
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