Over the past 12 years there have been five Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) commissions leading to the elimination of some bases and other military facilities. The process for determining which facilities to close or realign is relatively straightforward. The Department of Defense (DoD) proposes a list of bases that is reviewed by an independent commission that passes the final set of names to Congress which must vote to accept or reject the list as a whole. In general, if a facility is on the Pentagon’s initial list its fate is sealed; but not always. Historically, about 15 percent of the initial recommendations are changed or rejected by the Commissioners.
The decision to close the submarine base at New London, Connecticut, is an example of the one-in-seven cases in the BRAC process where the Pentagon gets it wrong. DoD wants to save money by consolidating all East Coast submarines at two facilities, Norfolk and King’s Bay. But just moving the 16 boats at New London would not save much money. The “answer” was to close the entire facility.
The recommendation is wrong on two counts. First, it is inconsistent with the 2005 BRAC criteria. In particular, closing New London will negatively impact the operational readiness of the submarine force. New London is home to more than just its three submarine squadrons. It also houses the Submarine School and the Naval Submarine Support Facility (NSSF). The Naval Undersea Warfare Center which develops new operational concepts for submarine operations is close by at Newport, RI. Next door is the General Dynamic’s Electric Boat Division (EB) that both builds nuclear submarines and designs future boats. The value for readiness of co-locating submarine training, concept development and design work with a nuclear submarine shipyard cannot be over estimated.
Second, it incorrectly assesses the savings from New London’s closure. A synergy exists between the base and the shipyard. Skilled personnel from EB provide maintenance support for New London. This maintenance work is critical to keeping a large and capable workforce at EB. Advanced submarine design work at EB, such as the Tango Bravo program, benefits from the close proximity of the Submarine School and Undersea Warfare Center. Submarine crews, who go on board their boat a year or more before it is launched, make use of the facilities at the naval base. Without the base, the cost of servicing their needs will inevitably rise. New London is one half of a sophisticated, complex and world-class submarine design/build/repair capability. One will not do well without the other. It is not simply a matter of dollars saved but of capabilities potentially lost.
The BRAC Commission should easily recognize that closing New London is a bad idea. Any savings gained are likely to be offset by such tangible losses due to increased maintenance costs and the intangible costs associated with destroying a unique network of capabilities. Weakening the U.S. strategic advantage in undersea warfare is not worth a few hundred million dollars of savings.
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