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New Closure Rounds Needed, Cohen Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 3, 1998 – If DoD continues to pay for unnecessary bases, readiness will decline, service members' quality of life will drop and defense modernization will have to be put off, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said April 2.

During a news conference in the Pentagon, Cohen said Congress must approve base closures in 2001 and 2005 or U.S. defense strategy will be compromised. Cohen said the United States can either invest in unneeded infrastructure or in modernization. The money is not there to do both.

Money saved in closures and realignments go to fund DoD modernization. The first four base closure rounds, for example, will save DoD a total of $29.2 billion by fiscal 2003, Cohen said. Every year after, the savings will be $5.6 billion.

Two new rounds of base closures would save DoD an estimated $21 billion by 2014. Officials estimate continued yearly savings of $3 billion.

The new rounds of base closures would allow the department to adequately fund modernization and keep readiness high.

Overall, Cohen said, DoD has 23 percent more capacity than the force size needs. "In the Navy, we have 46 percent fewer ships today than we had in 1989," he said. "Yet berthing, which includes pier space and equipment, dropped only 18 percent."

In the Army, there were 350,000 classroom spaces allocated in 1989, Cohen said. Instructional space dropped 7 percent while manpower dropped 43 percent.

In the Air Force, there are 53 percent fewer planes than in 1989, yet apron space dropped only 35 percent.

"Clearly, this needs to change," he said.

Adm. Jay Johnson, chief of naval operations, speaking for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the chiefs "stand foresquare behind Secretary Cohen on this." The U.S. military cannot undertake modernization while maintaining unneeded infrastructure, he said.

Cohen said he believes Congress will go along with the proposal for additional base closures once they understand the choices. Answering a reporter's question, Cohen said if Congress does not approve further closure rounds, he may be forced to put off maintenance at bases or bring installations down to skeleton crews. "This wouldn't be fair to the service members at these places and it certainly wouldn't be fair to the communities around those bases, but this is the type of decision I might have to make," he said.

He said 1999-2001 time frame is decisive for DoD. In the next few years, Cohen said, he must make decisions about procurement of the Joint Strike Fighter, the Comanche helicopter and the F-22. The money saved by base closures will help pay for these and many other procurements, he said.

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