California is Key to Transformation of Nation’s Defense

San Francisco Chronicle, March 28, 2005
By Leon E. Panetta
This nation soon will begin the difficult base realignment and closure process known as BRAC, or Base Realignment and Closure. This procedure of reconfiguring forces and installations can be an arbitrary process that has little relationship to future military needs, or it can be an opportunity to truly transform our national defense for the 21st century.

It is in the interest of California and the nation to make sure that the BRAC process indeed looks to the future.

As a former chairman of the House Budget Committee and director of the federal Office of Management and Budget, I do not question the need to streamline and transform our military infrastructure. But for that process to work fairly and effectively, the military and the national BRAC Commission have an obligation to consider all of the facts relating to military readiness.

Unfortunately, that has not always been the case. In the last base closure rounds in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995, of the total bases closed or realigned in the nation, 30 percent were in California — more than any other state. California lost fully 50 percent of the jobs associated with these BRAC closures and realignments and more than $10 billion in economic losses. This does not include the huge costs of lost economic development due to the delays in transferring the bases to local communities.

But the real tragedy was that California did a lousy job in defending the important assets that it brings to our national defense. There was little if any help or support provided by the state, the governor, the Legislature or the congressional delegation.

Each community affected by a base closure was left to fight its own battle, and the Defense Department picked the state apart. Too few communities had the financial resources or military expertise necessary to ensure that any wrong information or perceptions were corrected.

In the absence of a strong coordinated effort by this state to make the arguments on behalf of these bases, former Defense Department officials familiar with the base-closure process have confirmed that many of the closures were based more on the politics of California than on future defense needs.

That should not be allowed to happen again.

That is why Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has appointed a California Council on Base Support and Retention. As co-chair of that council with Donna Tuttle, our responsibility is to review and inventory the military bases left and make recommendations as to how the governor, Legislature and congressional delegation can unite to ensure that California has a vital role to play in our national security.

The fact is that California possesses a number of critical and unique assets important to protecting our security interests in the future. Intelligence and foreign-policy evaluations conclude that future threats to our nation will emerge from Asia and the Pacific; witness the recent turmoil in North Korea, China and Taiwan. The great concentration of naval, air and marine forces in California fulfills a strategic role in the Pacific that cannot be replicated anywhere else.

With the closure of almost all of the naval installations in the Bay Area, the last remaining deep-water port in California is in San Diego. From these naval facilities, the U.S. deploys three nuclear carriers and accompanying support forces throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and countless other Marine operational and support forces routinely deploy from Camp Pendleton. Airlift capacities at Travis Air Force Base move hundreds of thousands of tons of cargo and troops around the world. Electronic intelligence and photo reconnaissance missions fly from Beale Air Force Base in support of worldwide operations.

California does a better job of connecting Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps into a combined capability than any other state. The Pentagon has stressed the need for joint operations, and California provides irreplaceable training assets for this purpose. Two-thirds of the air space restricted for military operations is contained within California, Nevada and Arizona. The combination of this air space, coupled with the large land areas at Fort Irwin, the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms and the mobilization and training facilities at Camp Roberts and Fort Hunter Liggett, make California a principal place for the training, testing, mobilization and evaluation of combat troops, combat systems and weapons technologies. And because of the climate, more than 90 percent of all military training days nationwide occur in California.

Accompanying the development of the defense industry in California has been the evolution of a network of universities, research facilities and industrial expertise that cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the United States. Seven of the nation’s top 25 research universities are located in California, with the confluence of them around the centers of the computer and aerospace industries in Northern and Southern California. Every major aerospace and space technology company has its roots in California. As a result, California provides worldwide leadership in missile technology, launch capabilities and intelligence and communication-satellite technologies.

Educating our military men and women in the skills necessary for future missions is another California asset. The Naval Postgraduate School and the Defense Language Institute have been called “national treasures” by Gen. John Abizaid of the Central Command, because they provide the essential technological and language training crucial to the military missions of the future.

For all these reasons — geography, climate, technological leadership and human capital — California has a capability and future capacity to meet present and future national strategic and military objectives. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said that he is committed to transforming the military into a more effective force for the future. While some bases may be closed or realigned in this state, California can make a strong argument that most of its major installations provide the assets that are key to that transformation. If the state is unified in this effort, California and the nation’s defense can benefit from the base closure and realignment process.

Military bases

Lassen County

1 Sierra Army Depot

Yuba County

2 Beale Air Force Base

Solano County

3 Travis Air Force Base

Alameda County

4 Camp Parks Reserve

Santa Clara County

5 Onizuka Air Force Station

Monterey County

6 The Presidio of Monterey Defense Language Institute

  • Foreign Language Center
  • The Naval Postgraduate School
  • Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center

7 Fort Hunter Liggett

Kings County

8 Lemoore Naval Air Station

Kern County

9 China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station

10 Edwards Air Force Base

Santa Barbara County

11 Vandenberg Air Force Base

Ventura County

12 Naval Base Ventura County

  • Naval Air Station Point Mugu
  • Contruction Battalion Center
  • Point Hueneme

Los Angeles County

13 Los Angeles Air Force Base

San Bernardino County

14 Fort Irwin

15 Barstow Marine Corps Logistics Base

16 Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Combat Center

Orange County

17 Joint Forces Training Base

18 Naval Weapons Station

Riverside County

19 Naval Warfare Assessment Station

20 March Air Reserve Base

San Diego County

21 Camp Pendleton

22 Miramar Marine Corps Air Station

23 Naval Base Coronado

24 Naval Air Systems Command Depot

25 Marine Corps Recruit Depot

26 Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center

Imperial County

27 El Centro Naval Air Facility

Source: Office of Military and Aerospace Support Office

Leon Panetta’s column appears every other month in Commentary. Readers may write to him at the Panetta Institute, 100 Campus Center, Building 86E, CSU Monterey Bay, Seaside, CA 93955.


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