Navy secretary nominee open to base closures, women in combat roles

Navy secretary nominee open to base closures, women in combat roles
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Investment banker and former Marine aviator Richard V. Spencer said if confirmed as the next Navy secretary he is open to another round of base closures and allowing women to serve in all combat roles.

In advance policy questions written prior to his Tuesday Senate confirmation hearing, Spencer said allowing the Pentagon another round of a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) “makes sense to me.”

“The five prior rounds of BRAC ... continue to save [the Defense Department] $12 [billion] annually and I have been told a new round could save an additional $2 [billion] each year,” Spencer writes.

“This additional savings would prove critical to efforts to rebuild the Navy and Marine Corps and improve warfighter readiness.”

Pentagon officials have requested base closures in past years, hoping to shutter the unused or underused facilities within DOD, but lawmakers must first grant permission. 

The last round of BRAC was in 2005, but the annual National Defense Authorization Act for years has explicitly banned another round because of the potential for negative economic effects on the communities around bases.

Spencer also said he will support allowing women to serve in combat arms roles, provided they meet the requirements. 

“I believe without reservation that every patriot with a desire to serve should be afforded that opportunity, with the singular caveat that all must meet the standards of the Navy and Marine Corps,” Spencer writes. 

“The Service must pull from the widest pool of talent and backgrounds to maximize warfighting capability, adapt to emerging threats and challenge, and leverage new opportunities.” 

In addition, Spencer allowed that he is not up to date on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter when questioned on his assessment of the program.

“I am not aware of the detailed status or risks of the F-35,” Spencer writes. “If confirmed I will review this program to assess the overall status.”

He did note that he is open to using the Boeing-made F/A-18 Super Hornet or developing a next-generation fighter jet as an alternative to the Navy’s F-35C model.

“If confirmed, I will ensure the Department continues to examine the optimum 4th/5th generation strike fighter mix based on threat assumptions, technology maturation and future strategic assessments.”

President Trump in December criticized the F-35 costs and wrote on Twitter that he had asked Boeing to price out a competitive alternative with its F/A-18.

He also hinted at a Super Hornet replacement during his first press conference of 2017 in January.

“We’re going to do some big things on the F-35 program and perhaps the F-18 program," Trump said. "And we’re going to get those costs way down, and we’re gonna get the plane even better, and we’re going to have some competition. And it's going to be a beautiful thing." 

Defense Secretary James Mattis has since ordered a review of the F-35 that studies potential ways to cut costs and whether the F/A-18 could become be bought instead of the F-35.

Spencer, who would be in charge of the Navy and Marine Corps, currently heads Fall Creek Management LLC, a private Wyoming-based consulting firm. 

He was also a Marine aviator from 1976 to 1981, with ties to the Pentagon and an extensive business background.

After leaving the Marines, Spencer worked on Wall Street for 15 years with Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Bear Sterns and Paine Webber, among other firms.