Sen. Warner grills Pentagon on jet base

John Warner (R-Va.) is invoking his power as the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, requiring the Pentagon to submit all necessary data that substantiates the Navy's need to build a brand-new master jet base.

Warner has grilled the Pentagon before, but this time it's personal.

The East Coast master jet base currently is in Oceana, Va.  The independent Base Closure and Realignment Commission on Tuesday voted to add Oceana to the extensive base closure list. An addition does not, however, mean that the base will be closed when the commission submits its final decisions to the president Sept. 8. 

In a letter to Gordon England, Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense, sent before the commission voted to add Oceana to the list, Warner said that he was "stunned" to find out that the Pentagon ideally would like a brand new jet base on the East Coast. The Pentagon responded to questions posed by the BRAC Commission, which requested information on proposed scenarios for additional base closures.

"Making such troubling announcement in the context of a routine response to the BRAC Commission casts a dark cloud over the local communities surrounding Oceana," Warner wrote. "Such an announcement puts them in a permanent state of limbo that will linger well beyond the BRAC process. 

In a response letter sent to Warner yesterday, England sought to reassure Warner, stating that Oceana is the most suitable base for the present and is manageable for the future. However, England added,  "…we will need to pursue a long-range strategy with the local community that ensures that Oceana will remain a viable master jet base."

Late yesterday, Warner said, "Over the upcoming weeks, I will work with the Department of Defense in making the case for keeping Oceana open and operating in its present state….I draw attention to the last sentence in Secretary England's letter: 'The Department stands firmly behind its recommendation to keep Oceana open.'"

Roxana Tiron