BRAC Must Not Be Delayed

Report Defense

BRAC Must Not Be Delayed

May 20, 2004 6 min read
Jack Spencer
Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom
Jack Spencer oversees research as Vice President for the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity.

The House Armed Services Committee recently passed an amendment to the 2005 Defense Authorization Act requiring the Department of Defense to conduct a series of studies before it can undertake the next round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). This amendment would delay BRAC for two years. No further amount of study will change the fact that the Pentagon maintains-and funds-approximately twenty-five percent in excess base infrastructure. Congress should reject any delay to BRAC.


Wrong Approaches

Those in favor of delaying BRAC have proposed several alternative approaches, but undertaking them would be a mistake.


Wrong Approach #1: The Pentagon must complete further force structure studies before moving forward with BRAC.


The heart of this argument is based on the notion that the U.S. armed forces are in the midst of a war and undergoing systemic changes and, therefore, cannot fully comprehend what future infrastructure requirements might be.


While the Pentagon's transformation efforts include a number of force structure and other relevant reviews, these do not preclude moving foreword with BRAC. Indeed, the two can and should occur simultaneously to ensure consistency. The U.S. military was operating at an extremely high operations tempo during previous rounds of BRAC, and those rounds were extremely successful. Furthermore, the Pentagon has been in a state of continuous review for a number of years now and already has a sound understanding of what its force requirements are.


Wrong Approach #2: Foreign bases should be closed before closing bases at home. 


America's foreign and domestic basing infrastructure is an important part of America's national security strategy, and where those bases are built should depend on how they enhance national security, not on whether or not they are in the United States. An integrated approach, involving both foreign and domestic bases, is vital to a successful BRAC process


Wrong Approach #3: America needs a larger military force and, therefore, more basing infrastructure.


Whether or not the military needs more troops, it certainly does not need 25 percent more troops-which is the amount of excess infrastructure the Pentagon currently maintains. Therefore, the BRAC process should move forward, taking into consideration the size of the force and its future needs.


Defense Transformation Needs BRAC

The transformation debate often focuses on military platforms, investments, and operational concepts. All of these are important; wrong decisions on any of these fronts would lead to major setbacks. However, before transformation can fully succeed, the Pentagon must make the best use of its scarce resources and create an environment that invites and supports change. BRAC sets a good example in this regard and increases overall flexibility.


Another round of BRAC would also advance long-term institutional objectives, including transformation. Relying on an infrastructure meant to support a Cold War force perpetuates the status quo. Alternatively, changing the military basing system to reflect the strategic and technological realities of the current century will help the rest of the Department of Defense to make similar changes.


BRAC Facilitates Joint Operations

Perhaps the most critical element of defense transformation is the continued effort to achieve greater cooperation, or jointness, among the services. Restructuring the Department of Defense's support infrastructure, much as the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 restructured the Pentagon bureaucracy, will compel the services to work together more closely.


One of the ways to advance this cause is to create a basing infrastructure that puts a premium on joint operations and multi-mission training.


BRAC is a necessary step to further this cooperation between the services.


Encroachment Is a Growing Problem

Expanding suburban and exurban areas are encroaching on many of America's bases, and the result will be reduced training opportunities for the armed forces and reduced readiness. This is inconsistent with military transformation, which requires more opportunities to train, not fewer.


Throughout the country, the armed forces face lawsuits claiming that noise and other nuisances associated with military activity are having a detrimental effect on surrounding residential areas. As the population has grown-displacing plant and animal life and making some species more dependent on military land for habitat-environmental regulations have begun to interfere with the armed forces' day-to-day operations. Installations around the nation, such as California's Camp Pendleton and Fort Irwin, have already been forced to curtail their activities significantly in deference to environmental regulations.


As the BRAC process moves forward, it should put a high priority on bases that are only minimally affected by nearby growth and unlikely to be adversely affected in the future.


BRAC Must Address Global Basing Infrastructure

A successful BRAC should not be limited only to bases on U.S. territory. The United States is a global power and requires a global basing infrastructure, one far different from today's, however. The United States maintains an extensive basing system in Western Europe that reflects the static security environment of the Cold War rather then the unpredictable world of the 21st century. Similarly, many American facilities abroad are not conducive to either expeditionary warfare, in which the nation is now most likely to engage, or the force structure that will likely emerge from transformation.


Because the United States depends so heavily on its bases abroad, it must evaluate which bases may be vulnerable to closure by their host nations. This will allow the Pentagon to maintain adequate domestic infrastructure to support those forces if they are compelled to leave. Likewise, where such closure is unlikely, there is little need to maintain excess infrastructure at home to support those elements.


Ultimately, facilities abroad and at home should not be artificially separated. They are all integral elements of the same whole.


BRAC Will Increase Efficiency and Save Money

Today, maintaining excess base infrastructure is draining much-need resources. Although saving money and improving efficiency should not drive the BRAC process, they should play a major role. Indeed, a characteristic of a transformed force is that it also is much more efficient.


To maximize efficiency on the battlefield, the Pentagon must begin by improving efficiency in its support structures. This efficiency will help the Department of Defense to achieve the rapid deployment capabilities that it seeks and build in the flexibility needed to respond to threats as they emerge in the future.


However, efficiency must not supercede military value. Part of the value that bases add to the force is providing surge capacity if the nation ever requires a large increase in military capabilities due to a rapid change in the security environment. Nevertheless, the requirement for surge capacity should not be used as an indiscriminate excuse not to close a particular base. It is simply a factor that should be considered in the BRAC process.


Go Forward with BRAC

An important step toward building the force of the future is to create an environment that invites change. The focus should be on creating a system, support structure, and bureaucracy that facilitates transformation. An intelligently executed BRAC 2005 will help to achieve this by creating a solid foundation on which to build the future force, and it will free the resources necessary to reinvest in the force of today and tomorrow. An integrated approach that considers both foreign and domestic bases in light of the National Military Strategy and the Global Defense Posture Review is the only sensible course of action.


Delaying the BRAC process further is a bad decision, and requiring additional studies to be completed before the process can commence is just not justified. BRAC is a difficult process for many, but it is, nonetheless, a necessary one.


Jack Spencer is Senior Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.


Jack Spencer
Jack Spencer

Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom