Army close to making force structure decisions at U.S. bases

It seems unlikely that Congress will go along with DoD’s latest request to close stateside military bases, but in the case of the Army, many of the bases lawmakers are protecting would become a lot more sparsely-populated if the Budget Control Act stays in full force.

Later this month, the Army will wrap up a listening tour it’s been conducting at bases around the country as it prepares to draw up plans for how it would allocate its forces under full sequestration, which would push its already-planned drawdown from 570,000 to 450,000 soldiers to a yet-smaller force of 420,000.

Katherine Hammack, the assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, told Congress in a hearing last week that preliminary estimates show some bases could lose as many as 15,000 personnel under such a scenario.

“We’re looking at 30 different bases right now that will be those that are most impacted, and we are going out and doing listening sessions to better understand the impacts to the community,” she told the House Appropriations Committee. “Impacts to the community are part of the evaluation. Military value is part of the evaluation. We take a look at everyone and everything.”

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Hammack said the Army team would be making base-level recommendations to Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno and Secretary John McHugh in April or May, and will announce final decisions about where cuts would take place sometime in June.

“And let me reiterate: These are cuts directly in response to the Budget Control Act and sequestration,” she said.

Some of the analysis the Army is doing right now would be happening with or without sequestration in order to meet the 450,000 soldier target it’s already planned, but senior leaders ordered that the listening sessions and supplemental environmental assessments be consolidated into one fell swoop so they’d only have to go through the process once.

Without sequestration, the Army already plans to reduce its number of brigade combat teams from 45 to 32 by the end of this year and shrink to total size of 450,000 by the end of 2017.

Officials have not estimated how much excess capacity either of the final drawdown figures would leave on their bases, but even before the drawdown is completed, the Army estimates its current U.S. base footprint is between 12 and 28 percent underutilized, and that it’s spending roughly $480 million per year to maintain unused infrastructure.

This post is part of Jared Serbu’s Inside the DoD Reporter’s Notebook feature. Read more from this edition of Jared’s Notebook.