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January 26. 2012 10:45PM

4 senators decry more base closings

Quicker than you can say 'submarine repair,’ the four U.S. senators from New Hampshire and Maine on Thursday criticized a proposal by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to institute another formal round of military base closings.

The four issued a press release hours after Panetta introduced a 2013 budget that would cut $487 billion over the next 10 years.

It would eliminate 92,000 ground troops, mothball ships, trim air squadrons and shift the emphasis in strategic forces from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Pacific and the Middle East.

He also asked for Congress to activate a Base Closure and Realignment Commission. Four such commissions have been tasked in the past, according to retired Navy Capt. Robert McDonough, a former commander at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and member of Seacoast Shipyard Association.

In 2005, military brass slated the Portsmouth shipyard for closure, but the BRAC commission overruled the recommendation. In 2010, the shipyard, which repairs and upgrades Navy submarines, employed about 5,100 civilians.

“Another proposed round of BRAC closures now doesn’t make sense for our national defense or our national finances,” said a statement released by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Olympia Snow, R-Maine, and Susan Collins, R-Maine.

U.S. bases shouldn’t be closed until the Pentagon decides what bases to close overseas, the four said.

They also said the costs of the 2005 BRAC are more than anticipated, so it will take more than a decade to realize any savings.

But McDonough, one of the Portsmouth shipyard’s biggest cheerleaders, said he’s not afraid of BRAC. Rather, he fears the ‘sequestering’ that will soon take place because the Congressional super-committee could not meet budget targets.

“This (BRAC) is, in my judgment, not a bad thing. These are structured and not a meat ax approach,” he said. “We understand what BRACs are; we don’t understand this draconian cut.”

A Defense Department spokesman Thursday could not give details about Panetta’s BRAC request.

“It’s way, way too early to talk about any of this,” said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins.

For BRAC to go forward, Congress must authorize it. In the past, military brass drew up a list of bases, the BRAC commission considers and revises the recommendation, then the package is sent to Congress for an up-or-down vote.

Also Thursday, Panetta said he would delay purchase of a Virginia class submarine, the Associated Press reported.

The Portsmouth shipyard works on Virginia class submarines. McDonough said that is no shock; such statements are made every year.

Ayotte, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said questions remain about whether the proposed 2013 budget meets the country’s national security interests.

Panetta proposed spending $525 billion and another $88.4 billion for overseas contingencies, most in Afghanistan.

“We must not allow misguided defense cuts to add a national security crisis to our existing financial crisis,” Ayotte said.


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