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Department of Defense Press Briefing on European Infrastructure Consolidation Actions in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Jan. 8, 2015
Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet and John Conger, performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment

STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Welcome to the Pentagon, if you're from outside the building.


We're going to have a briefing today. The topic is the European Infrastructure Consolidation and the actions taken that derive from that.


Our briefers today, we have the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, Mr. Derek Chollet, and on his left is Mr. John Conger, performing the duties of the assistant secretary of defense for energy installations and environment.


They'll make opening statements. We'll have time for questions afterwards, and let me know if there's questions beyond that if we've run out of time.


Mr. Chollet, if you'd like to begin.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DEREK CHOLLET: Good morning.


Is this on? This on?


STAFF: Yes.


MR. CHOLLET: Okay. Good morning.


European and trans-Atlantic security is more important than ever. The United States remains committed to NATO and our presence in Europe.


For generations, U.S. service members have lived with, trained with and fought alongside European allies and partners. We currently have approximately 67,000 military personnel stationed in Europe, and our troops train and deploy with European counterparts across the globe.


Our European allies remain our strong partners in addressing shared security challenges, whether in responding to Russia's actions against Ukraine or the operations in Iraq and Syria, where European countries are a vital part of the coalition.


U.S. forward basing and access to facilities in Europe are an indispensable component to that partnership. They enable the United States military and our allies to respond to crises quickly, and our operational presence in Europe is critical to our common global security goals.


Yet at the same time, we must ensure that we pursue these goals in a way that is as efficient and effective possible. That's why two years ago, the department initiated a process to review our force presence and facilities in Europe known as the European Infrastructure Consolidation, or EIC.


Today, we are announcing the results of the EIC process, which aims to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of our presence in Europe by consolidating and realigning excess infrastructure.


In this process, the department maintained a close and consistent engagement with the Congress, with the State Department, with the Joint Staff, with the services, with EUCOM and our European partners.


Over the past several years, Secretary Hagel has discussed these issues with his European counterparts, and just yesterday he had phone conversations with the defense ministers of the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Portugal.


We will continue this engagement as EIC implementation occurs over the next several years.


With these EIC decisions, we are consolidating and reducing some existing support infrastructure in order to be more efficient, but we are not affecting our operational capability. The EIC adjustments do not diminish our ability to meet our commitments to allies and partners. In fact, these decisions will produce savings that will enable us to maintain a robust force presence in Europe.


We are also investing in new infrastructure, and expanding and enhancing our partnerships and joint and combined training opportunities across Europe.


This includes investments in infrastructure, greater rotational presence in air, land and sea, and enhanced exercises. Such efforts will be supported by the nearly $1 billion in additional funds the Congress provided at the end of last year.


And through the EIC, we ensure that the United States will retain the infrastructure in Europe needed to support our permanently stationed forces, additional rotational forces and contingency requirements.


On that note, today we are announcing that the United States Air Force will permanently base the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in Europe and that the secretary of defense has selected RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom as the first location to host two squadrons of F-35s.


This decision is just the latest example of the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. The presence of U.S. F-35s at Lakenheath will lead to new possibilities for collaboration with the United Kingdom, such as the potential for greater training and wider support opportunities.


Taken together, these decisions on our force presence in Europe will enhance our operational readiness and mission posture at reduced funding levels, all toward the objective of maintaining a strong trans-Atlantic alliance and meeting our common security interests.


With that, I'd like to turn it over to my colleague, John Conger, who led the European Infrastructure Consolidation effort, for the details on the process and the decisions made here.


PERFORMING THE DUTIES OF ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JOHN CONGER: Thanks.


So, I'm John Conger, and I'm responsible for installations and infrastructure at the department and have had the responsibility for managing the EIC process as it unfolded over the last two years. Due to past and ongoing force structure changes, changing security environment and the ongoing tough fiscal climate, the Department of Defense undertook a comprehensive review of the infrastructure requirements necessary to support U.S. forces and their missions in and around Europe.


Let me add a point here for context. We have continually sought efficiencies as we manage installations worldwide. That's one of the reasons we have requested base realignment and closure, or BRAC, authority from Congress to do a review of our U.S. installations. In this fiscal environment, it would be irresponsible of us not to look for such savings.


Similarly, we thought a review of our infrastructure in Europe was important to conduct. We used a process very similar to the proven U.S. BRAC process in analyzing the bases in Europe. We looked at capacity, at requirements, at military value, at cost and at the diplomatic dynamics involved with each action.


And bottom line for us was that we wanted to preserve our operational capability, while reducing the cost of supporting it. Therefore, as we consolidate our footprint, the infrastructure remaining in place will continue to support our operational requirements and strategic commitments.


We did not contemplate changes that reduced warfighting capability. That was a fundamental constraint of the analysis.


The largest installation that is part of this announcement is our return of RAF Mildenhall to the UK. Approximately 3,200 U.S. personnel from Mildenhall will be re-stationed elsewhere. This move will be partially offset by the addition of about 1,200 personnel that will support the F-35s being stationed in RAF Lakenheath.


Both of these events will occur in the 2018 to 2021 timeframe. There are a number of divestitures that will be occurring, but this is the largest example.


The overall EIC process will see the DOD divesting excess infrastructure. It will save the department approximately half a billion dollars a year, all while maintaining the same operational capability. As a result, we will not need as many support personnel to maintain a reduced infrastructure in terms of both U.S. military and civilian personnel and host nation employees.


Approximately 1,200 U.S. military and civilian support positions will be eliminated and about 6,000 more U.S. personnel will be relocated within Europe. Up to 1,100 host nation positions could also be eliminated and approximately 1,500 additional Europeans working for the U.S. could end up being impacted over the next several years as many of their positions are relocated to areas we need to maintain for the long term.


As I stated earlier, the largest local national job reductions will come from the closure of Mildenhall in the UK, but that will be partly offset with the F-35 basing.


You may have questions about exactly how many U.S. or host nation personnel will be affected by each installation or site. But for that level of detail, I'd refer you to the U.S.-European Command, EUCOM, and their component commands.


These recommendations will be executed over the next several years. That does not mean everything will remain static while these changes occur. There were consolidations made before EIC and there will undoubtedly be future basing actions.


However, today, we're talking about the holistic review we conducted over the last two years which I believe will strengthen our posture in Europe.


Thank you very much for your attention.


STAFF: Questions, please?


Joe?


Q: Mr. Chollet, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra.


As you may know, the threat that is facing Europe now and could face Europe in the future is an asymmetric threat emanate from non-conventional group such Al Qaida or ISIL or other groups. How do you explain the reason or the purpose of keeping 67,000 U.S. troops in Europe? What's the objective from that?


MR. CHOLLET: So there are several objectives.


Clearly, we continue to have security interests in Europe and security threats to Europe. The recent crisis in Ukraine over the last year illustrates that. And so part of our force presence is to work with and reassure our NATO allies who we have treaty obligations to defend in Europe.


But also, it's important to note that Europe is a critical platform for U.S. military operations, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where European facilities, bases and capabilities that we station in Europe are absolutely critical to military operations throughout the Middle and North Africa and, in fact, the world, as transit points to Asia and elsewhere.


So, I think our military presence, of course, has come down in Europe significantly since the end of the Cold War, over the last quarter century, but maintaining a strong, robust force presence in Europe is absolutely vital to our national security interests.


Q: Just a quick follow-up. Do you think with the EIC process, the strategy would be better to face the infiltration of terrorists throughout Europe?


MR. CHOLLET: I'm not sure I understand the question.


Q: The EIC process --


MR. CHOLLET: Um-hum.


Q: Will we see -- do you think we'll expect better strategy to counter the infiltration of terrorists throughout Europe?


MR. CHOLLET: So, they are two separate issues. The EIC process is about infrastructure and gaining greater efficiencies to allow us to maintain a strong force presence in Europe into the future.


A separate set of issues about asymmetric threats, unconventional threats, and that's something that I know General Breedlove here in this room has talked about, and Secretary Hagel has talked about as challenges for the NATO alliance. And it's something that NATO partners talked about at the summit in Wales last fall -- last year and will certainly talk about later this year at the defense ministerial in February.


Q: Sir, I'd like to kind of follow up a little bit on the same.


Is there any element in this realignment, reorganization, that either you worry hinders your military intelligence, counterterrorism capability? Or is there anything where maybe, on the other hand, you might have saved some money, realigned things, and it might actually enhance it and free something up for you?


Is there any --


MR. CHOLLET: Yeah, I -- one of the challenges, or the efforts here, was to match both the desire to gain greater efficiencies in infrastructure while still maintaining what we believe is the infrastructure to allow the force presence to ensure that we can defend our national security interests.


So, none of the infrastructure consolidation, efficiencies, that we'll be getting out of this process will have any bearing on our ability to -- operational capability, our ability to defend our interests, our intelligence capabilities.


In fact, the savings that we will be gaining in this process will allow us to maintain a strong force presence into the future.


Q: Hi. Sydney Freedberg, Breaking Defense.


You folks have made it very clear that, you know, you're consolidating but not reducing the operational capability, the security of Europe, et cetera. Obvious question is: How? Are there -- is it simply a matter of finding leftover stuff from the Cold War that has been sitting idle? Or is it, you know, a more -- is there more to it than that in terms of cutting infrastructure without actually getting rid of stuff that you need?


MR. CONGER: Let me take that one.


It's closer to the first idea that you floated.


What we were doing was looking at -- we looked at capacity versus requirements. And we found that we were able to consolidate the same capability on fewer locations.


There were some places -- I'm not sure I would characterize it as left over from the Cold War, but there certainly are a lot of individual sites that are smaller in our European footprint, that we were able to collapse together.


And some of them were small. A lot of the things you'll see in the list, the general public may not be familiar with. There were several recommendations that, added together, had a larger impact. Mildenhall is the one that most people will have heard of.


But when you leave a site, that reduces the requirements for not -- for supporting that site. So, the security, the public works, et cetera, et cetera, individual staffs that are at that particular location are duplicative at that point.


Q: -- (inaudible) --


MR. CONGER: Pardon?


Q: -- (inaudible) --


MR. CONGER: Yes.


Q: And where do those -- (inaudible) -- all these small, inefficient bases come from in the first place? Presumably they had a point when they were first created.


MR. CONGER: I can't speak to the initiation of the hundreds of sites we have in Europe and why we had the laydown there at the beginning, but I understand that it's in some respect a characteristic of the end of World War II.


Q: Craig Whitlock with The Post.


In the scheme of the department's overall budget, $500 million in savings a year doesn't sound like a whole lot. Had you contemplated closing more installations, but changed course because of what's been going on in Ukraine and Russia?


MR. CONGER: I don't think so. Keep in mind that this was not an effort designed to solve the entire fiscal problem of the department. We have looked for base realignment and closure authority in the past, which would have -- obviously have a larger impact.


This was a practical, sensible, holistic look that we could do on a subset of our footprint, and we -- and we took that action. Half a billion dollars a year is, while not large compared to the rest of the department at large, is certainly not an amount of money to sneeze at.


Q: Could we talk more about the relationship between this and the European Reassurance Initiative? Are these savings specifically designed to bolster that effort? Do you expect that $500 million a year you'll be able to continue to redirect annually towards the ERI?


MR. CHOLLET: So, totally separate processes. This effort is over two years in the making, and the ERI, of course, is something that -- that President Obama asked for these additional funds last summer from the Congress.


Certainly, greater efficiencies help -- these savings help, but they're disconnected. So the $1 billion -- nearly $1 billion that we've received from our Congress at the end of last year will enable us to have some infrastructure improvements in facilities that we use for our rotational presence, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe; also help fund a robust exercise schedule.


So separate processes, but I think savings is savings. And -- and although they're not directly connected, the more efficiencies we can get out of our system and the less that we are spending money on things that -- that we judge are obsolete, the better off that we'll be and more able we'll be to spend money on the -- on things that we believe will be more consistent with pursuing our interests in the future.


Q: To what extent will you be able to redirect these savings, to your knowledge? Or are these going to end up body cuts? You -- any sense about that?


MR. CHOLLET: It's -- they're not -- they're not connected, not connected.


Q: And should we expect another round of EIC soon? You said undoubtedly there'd be more basing
decisions.


MR. CONGER: We're -- we're not planning an EIC II per se.


But my point is that this was not the first time anybody looked at European infrastructure. This was not the first time that -- that any installation was returned in Europe, and -- and it won't be the last time that anybody looks at European infrastructure, too.


MR. CHOLLET: And if I could just add, this is an evolutionary process.


Just as we have been undertaking this effort to take a close look at the existing infrastructure, we've been looking at how to upgrade new infrastructure to support our efforts in Central and Eastern Europe.


So a lot changed from a year ago, and who knows -- who knows what 2015 will hold here.


Q: (inaudible) -- with Defense One.


To ask Craig's question a little bit of a different way, you said the process has been going on for more than two years. How did the process change at all after Russia invaded Ukraine?


MR. CONGER: I can speak to that.


Obviously, when events occurred in -- in the Ukraine, we -- we took a look and asked the question to ourselves, you know, "Should we pause this"?


We decided to continue with the analysis, because the going-in conditions were not particularly affected by -- by the events going on in the world.


The question that we were asking ourselves is: How can we do the same thing for less money? That question is still pertinent.


We weren't talking about reducing our ability to -- to conduct the mission. We were talking about our ability to do that same mission for less money, and that was an effort worth -- worth continuing.


We conducted -- we then decided to complete the analysis and -- and allow the secretary to decide whether to go forward in whatever the current context would be at that time, and the secretary approved the recommendations that we came up with.


Q: To follow on a different subject.


Have these decisions all been communicated to the host countries?


MR. CHOLLET: Yes. We have been -- as I mentioned in my opening statement, we've been engaging with our host country counterparts throughout this entire process, and Secretary Hagel has been doing so at all of his meetings with the -- the affected countries. And just yesterday, he had these phone conversations with the four countries that are -- that are most affected by this.


And it's been an open process so far, and we'll continue this as these get implemented because these changes aren't going to happen overnight, and it'll take some time.


And we've also committed to work with these countries as much as we can to help mitigate some of the downsides, because there will be job losses in these countries. It will affect local communities and -- and we have an interest in doing what we can to try to help them mitigate the negative consequences of this.


Q: Phil Ewing with Politico. Just one quick follow-up, please, and then a question.


First, can you tell us when you expect to know where in Italy this next batch of F-35s will go? You said the first two squadrons are going to go to Lakenheath. When will the department know where in Italy the next aircraft will be deployed?


MR. CHOLLET: So, we haven't made a decision on that next round yet.


We have -- there has been a decision made for Italy to host a maintenance facility. That was announced last month for the F-35. But the future deployment decisions have not been made.


Q: And with respect to BRAC and the department's repeated requests to Congress for more rounds of BRAC, do you believe -- does the department believe that this process will strengthen its hand politically in going back next -- or going back this year with the budget and asking for BRAC again? Because you'll be able to say, "We've consolidated the infrastructure in Europe, now we want to turn our attention to the United States"?


MR. CONGER: I think so. I think that's a fair statement. Congress has raised several issues with regard to BRAC in the past, one of which was ‘please look at what your excess is overseas before you start looking at the domestic installations again.’ This was in part in response to that. And I think it was a responsible effort that we can go back to Congress with.


Q: Thanks. Kristina -- (inaudible) -- The Hill.


Just a clarification, Mr. Conger. When you say it won't be the last time that people look at European infrastructure, does that necessarily -- does that mean reducing or not necessarily so? I know you mentioned adding some infrastructure in Eastern Europe.


And then also, my question would be: How much will it cost to close the facilities? And when do we expect to see the savings?


MR. CONGER: Yeah. So, two parts to your question.


Let me -- let me answer the first one first. I wasn't alluding to a particular action. I mean, heck, you can look at the F-35 basing as a separate, non-EIC action, that is an example of a basing action that occurred in parallel at the same time, but not part of the EIC process.


We're announcing it today, but it wasn't part of our analysis. So that's the case in point.


With regard to cost, we project a cost of about $1.4 billion over the entire time period to implement the closures to go along with the half a billion dollars in recurring savings. That's a pretty good payback.


I would say slightly more than a third of that is military construction, so it's not like we're building $1.4 billion worth of buildings to accommodate this. It's a smaller figure.


Q: So, overall, there will be $500 million in savings annually.


MR. CONGER: In current savings.


Q: When will that start?


MR. CONGER: The full implementation of the recommendations is expected by the early 2020s, I would say, just after 2020.


These are -- it -- the smaller recommendations will be implemented more quickly. The larger ones will take more time.


And so the entirety -- you'll see the entirety of those recommendations and all of the recurring savings probably in -- in five or six years.


Q: Thank you. I'm -- (inaudible) -- with National Defense .


Mr. Chollet, I believe you said in the U.K. there would be a downsizing of about 3,200 jobs, and then you would be bringing in 1,200. What kind of jobs are being eliminated? And the 1,200 -- (inaudible) -- entirely all related to F-35s?


MR. CHOLLET: So, I'm going to -- overall on the specifics of the job -- the jobs being consolidated, as well as the new jobs, I'm going to have to defer to EUCOM colleagues.


Also on the F-35 issue, we do have a colleague here today, I'm not sure where he is, who can follow up with you specifically afterwards on some of these F-35 decisions.


Q: And do you have a breakdown of how many military and civilians are being affected?


MR. CHOLLET: I don't, but that's an issue you can follow up with EUCOM on.


Q: So, if we contact EUCOM, they have all this information available?


Okay.


MR. CHOLLET: Yeah.


Q: Andrew Tilghman with Military Times.


You said that the current force levels of active duty troops is 67,000. Do you have a number overall for what it would be at the end of all this?


And also, could I ask you to talk a little bit more about the rotational presence? Is there any long-term plan to have that rotational presence there, you know, beyond the 12-month timeline? Or is that something that will just be addressed on an annual budgetary basis?


MR. CHOLLET: At the end of this process, it will be -- our numbers of forces in Europe, 67,000, will be roughly the same. I mean, it's not always exactly 67,000, but it will be roughly the same.


In terms of the rotational presence, the intent is to continue this rotational presence into the future. In fact, some of the infrastructure improvements we are seeking to do as part of the European Reassurance Initiative will enable us to continue the rotational presence by building facilities that would allow our rotating troops to live and work.


So, that is our plan. Of course, we're going to over time have to seek funding for that. And as -- as things change in Europe, things get better or perhaps things get worse, we may adjust accordingly. We probably will adjust accordingly.


Q: And can I ask, does that plan call for the rotational troops to be moving into Eastern Europe from existing EUCOM forces? Or did you plan in as much detail to know whether that would be troops coming from outside EUCOM?


MR. CHOLLET: I don't think that's planned yet.


I can say that rotations that have occurred up to now have been both from within Europe as well as from -- from the United States.


STAFF: Yeah, Craig, go ahead.


Q: Thanks.


Could you just elaborate a little bit, please, on why you decided to close Molesworth and Mildenhall?


MR. CONGER: I -- I can talk to -- well, let me speak broadly. I -- I know that EUCOM is going to be speaking to the specifics of any of the individual recommendations.


But the analysis writ large looked at excess capacity. And so -- and it also looked at military value. So we -- we essentially were trying to make sure that the assets that we needed were at the locations that had the highest military value that was based on a complicated numerical -- a lot of different factors.


The result of that allowed us to collapse the assets from Mildenhall into other locations and -- and to recommend divestiture of that installation.


The Molesworth recommendation I'll -- I'll actually speak to a little bit more because we -- it's part of -- it was part of last year's congressional budget request to -- to start the construction at Croughton and -- and to collapse the intelligence activities from Molesworth and Alconbury into the facility at Croughton.


So -- so that's a fairly self-contained set of recommendations into collapsing multiple locations into a single one in the same geographic area.


Q: Is this -- excuse me -- is this plan -- do you have to go to Congress for approval on any of this, or is this something you can move forward with immediately?


MR. CONGER: Congress always has the right to decide what we get appropriated. So by -- by definition, that's going to be -- Congress will have a role in anything that we do.


The decision to close an installation overseas is not a particular one that you need, quote-unquote, "permission" from Congress, but -- but that doesn't mean we haven't been talking to them for -- for the last two years about each step of the way and -- and working with -- with the committees to -- to tell them what we could about the -- the analysis as it was ongoing.


So -- so do we need an authorization legislation from Congress? No. Will we need the appropriations in order to actuate these moves? Yes.


Q: Just to follow up, you've mentioned several times ERI is going to some infrastructure improvements. So, you know, you taketh and you give -- you taketh and you give.


I'm curious, if you'd give us some examples of the kinds of things that you were adding, even as some of these other installations that date back years are going away.


MR. CHOLLET: So first, just to repeat, we have 67,000 troops stationed in Europe. So we have a robust force presence. We have a significant infrastructure presence.


So what we're seeking -- what we sought to do with the EIC is to gain greater efficiencies in that infrastructure presence that will enable us to -- to stay there for the future.


In terms of the infrastructure improvements -- this is, for example, building or augmenting barracks on existing bases in Europe that are troops are currently rotating through to exercise with our European counterparts, building certain facilities. Because up to this point, our troops have been -- who have been rotating through in Central and Eastern Europe, have been piggybacking on -- on existing facilities that aren't perhaps necessarily up to the -- up to the capacity that -- that they can carry.


So that's the kinds of things that we'll be seeking to do that will therefore enable us down the road to continue our rotational presence, but at a lower cost.


Q: Instead of having to pay for ad hoc solutions to housing people --


MR. CHOLLET: Absolutely.


Q: Any sort of transportation infrastructure stuff that's going on, like, in terms of railhead, in terms of --


MR. CHOLLET: I -- I'll have to get back to you on the specifics. I don't have those -- those with me.


STAFF: We have time for a couple more.


Andrew?


Q: I -- I'd like to ask you about how the EIC process changed -- a little bit like Marcus asked -- how it changed when Russia invaded Ukraine. And clearly, this started out as an infrastructure exercise, and then you had Russia and Ukraine and allies calling for more capability.


And I'm wondering if at any point you considered increasing the capability. You said a couple times that you're not decreasing it.


And is it fair to look at this announcement today as a policy decision by the department or a strategic decision that Europe does not need more U.S. military capability? Or is that essentially a separate discussion occurring elsewhere in the department?


MR. CHOLLET: So I guess, two thoughts.


First, in terms of what changed, I would argue that the urgency of the EIC became more apparent because, as we were more focused on maintaining our force structure in Europe, we took -- we needed to take a close look at infrastructure and ensure that we had -- we were spending our money wisely.


And General Breedlove, who I know has released a statement this morning in support of these EIC recommendations, was very clear to us that he wanted to protect force structure. He wanted us to take a very close look at infrastructure. And since -- so I think that if anything over the last year, it's been -- it's sort of put more focus on our necessity of having savings.


And I would argue that the purpose of EIC is a reaffirmation of having a robust force presence in Europe, and the importance of the trans-Atlantic relationship to us.


In order to ensure that we're able to be there for the future and we have the funding and resources to be there for the future, we need to ensure to ourselves, to the Congress, to the American people that we are there as efficiently as we can be.


STAFF: Any final questions? All right.


Folks, thank you very much for coming.


As Mr. Chollet was kind enough to mention, the Air Force has been gracious enough to provide an expert here to talk about the F-35 basing if anyone has any follow-on questions.