BRAC Plan Called ‘Dead On Arrival’

The Bulletin

January 26, 2012

Proposed defense cuts revive fears for sub base.
The Pentagon’s latest budget-cutting proposal, including a new round of base closures, drew strong negative reactions from federal elected officials Thursday, but others attached to Eastern Connecticut were less worried.

Possible base closings that might include the naval submarine base in Groton were roundly criticized in a press release from U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and U.S. Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

The base was slated for closure in 2005, but strong local opposition helped get the decision reversed.

“There is sweeping bipartisan opposition to another round of BRAC (Base Closure and Realignment),” the three legislators wrote in a press release. “Given that the process requires congressional approval just to get off the ground, the proposal is dead on arrival.”

Under plans announced Thursday by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the Navy would delay the purchase of some Virginia-class submarines, a major program at the Groton-based Electric Boat shipyard.

Current plans for building a new generation of submarines that carry long-range nuclear missiles, known as the Ohio replacement class, would be delayed by two years. But EB isn’t panicking.

“This is the first step in a long process,” said Robert Hamilton, EB’s communications director. “Clearly, there are some situations that will warrant our attention.”

The Groton base is a much stronger institution today than seven years ago, said Robert T. Ross, a former Salem first selectman and veteran who is director of the state Office of Military Affairs. The state has invested $11 million in the base in an effort to prevent closure, he said.

“This (BRAC) should not come as a surprise to anyone,” Ross said. “Some thought it would come in 2013 or 2014. But the sub base is in a much better place than it was in 2005.”

The sub base contributes an estimated $3 billion to the state’s economy.

Connecticut would suffer proportionally less in reductions than some other states, Ross said. This is a vote of confidence in defense industry stalwarts such as EB, helicopter maker Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. and jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney, he said.

“We’re building all the right things,” Ross said. “We’re in good shape relative to other states.”

EB has won praise on Capitol Hill for delivering submarines under budget and ahead of schedule. Panetta praised EB’s performance during a visit to the Groton shipyard in November.
“The Virginia class continues to be the model for the Navy,” Ross said.
 Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut President Tony Sheridan sees it in similar terms.

“Panetta was here and was highly complementary of the work at Electric Boat,” he said. “Our (sub) base is secure. Our congressman and senators will make sure it stays that way.”

Panetta is attempting to deal with $a 487 billion reduction in military spending during the coming decade. The budget shifts the focus from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to future challenges in Asia, the Middle East and cyberspace. Special operations forces such as the kind that killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden will be more available around the world, he said.

“Our approach was to use this as an opportunity to maintain the strongest military in the world, not to hollow out the force,” Panetta said in a statement prepared for a news conference Thursday.

The spending plan will be submitted to Congress Feb. 13 as part of the Obama administration’s 2013 full budget.

State Rep. Chris Coutu, R-Norwich, an active National Guard soldier who is among Courtney’s challengers this year, disapproves of plans to reduce the Army by 80,000 soldiers. Total ground forces would be cut by 100,000.

“The announcement ... is a dangerous mistake,” Coutu said in a press release. “This is very similar to the BRAC that almost resulted in the Groton sub base and the 103rd Fighter Wing being shut down.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.