Air Force ready if BRAC becomes reality

Service officials are already looking at condensing the number of potential bases for their incoming fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said Thursday. 

Along with consolidating the number of future Air Force bases to house the JSF, service leaders are looking to shutter the Pittsburgh Air Reserve Station, Donley told reporters during Tuesday's breakfast in Washington. 

Drawing down service infrastructure goes hand in hand with a plan to cut Air Force personnel by 10,000 over the next five years, Donley said.

"The sight picture here is as the Air Force gets smaller ... we are confident we have excess infrastructure" to spare, he said. 

Shrinking the number of Air Force installations is one of many avenues Donley and other service leaders are exploring in an overall effort to cut costs in response to the budget pressure facing the Pentagon. 

Another avenue DoD is considering is another round of congressionally mandated base closures via the Base Realignment Closure Committee (BRAC). 

The Air Force has not done any preliminary planning in anticipation of a new round of BRAC closures, said Donley, who pointed out the Department of Defense has yet to request it.  

The installation cuts called for in their fiscal 2013 budget plan do not require any additional approval or authorities outside of the Air Force, he said. 

The Air Force was spared any major closures during the last BRAC round in 2005, Donley said. But service leaders are now hamstrung by the excessive costs associated with keeping those bases open — costs that the Air Force can no longer afford.

Since the 2005 BRAC round, service leaders have retired roughly 500 aircraft from the fleet, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz explained during a March 20 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

Having less planes means needing less bases to station them at, Schwartz told panel member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during the hearing. 

"There's no doubt in your mind that we need to close [these] additional Air Force installations?" McCain asked during the hearing. 

Keeping them on the Air Force's books will eat away at other, more pressing, service needs despite the political furor those closures may create, said Schwartz. "If we do not do that ... we will place the force again under more pressure to put spending into excess capacity when it should go into readiness and modernization."

That said, lawmakers are already drawing battle lines in anticipation of a new BRAC round. 

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services readiness and management support subcommittee, vowed to block any BRAC closures proposed this year. 

However, Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have said they would support another round of closures if DOD decided to proceed.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has tried to make the case to Congress that another BRAC round is necessary to gain long-term savings inside the Pentagon. 

DOD and the other services are all cutting personnel to meet a White House-mandated $487 billion cut to defense coffers.