There was traffic on the highway, on my way to New London, Connecticut last Thursday. And as I sat on I-95, I couldn't help but think that there wouldn't be many cars there for long.The Pentagon had decided to close the area's big employer, the Naval Sumbarine Base New London. And what the Pentagon wants, the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) usually delivers.But not this time."In what, in my view, is a landslide victory for maintaining American sea power, the BRAC Commission voted 7 to 1 (with 1 recusal) in favor of preserving Naval Submarine Base New London," notes Joe Buff, the author and undersea commentator, who's been a vocal opponent of the proposed closing.Click here to read Joe's take on the decision.
Naval Submarine Base New London can realistically claim to be the Submarine Capital of the World. The training facilities there are state of the art, covering almost every conceivable skill a submariner needs to survive at sea and do his job. The nuclear-qualified waterfrontage at the Base, if closed, could never be regained elsewhere. Groton is the East Coast base nearest to the shortest and most covert route to the Pacific, which goes under the Arctic ice cap -- a faster route to North Korea than the subs based in San Diego, in fact. And though details are highly classified, submarines are definitely "bringing home the bacon" in the Global War on Terror. So this is a terrible time to be cutting back on their facilities or disrupting their operational flow.The vote wrapped up a hard-fought battle that lasted all summer, becoming at times surprisingly bitter and personal. The outcome was no foregone conclusion, either. Despite strong counter-arguments from a group of retired admirals including three former CNOs, plus almost every New England politician from either party, not to mention community leaders and thousands of private citizens, the Pentagon remained insistent that both facilities be shuttered... The debate raged on until the final moments before the vote tally was taken live on C-SPAN 2, with a Department of Defense spokesman saying that New London met all the formal criteria for closure, while someone from the Government Accountability Office firmly stated quite the opposite -- and some Commissioners had pointed words of their own.While many BRACtivists can now breath a sigh of relief that crucial national security assets, and related jobs, will be preserved, troubling questions do remain. The biggest one, in my mind, is what to make of senior DOD and Navy leaders who, despite admonishments to the contrary from many quarters of the nation, remained so fixated on a narrow view of the Global War on Terror in isolation, and so blind to the vital importance of robust undersea warfare to safeguard our country's future. Mr. Rumsfeld, in particular, must be fuming -- he had a lot of credibility invested in pushing through the closure list unchanged. The fight over an adequately-sized submarine force, especially given the rising threat of China, will undoubtedly continue, and given the ways of the Beltway will almost certainly now escalate.