Air Force, Army and Navy officials discussed renewable energy milestones, force structure changes, and the impact on military and surrounding communities affected by base realignment and closure in Monterey, Calif., Aug. 6.
Terry A. Yonkers, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics; Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment; and Roger M. Natsuhara, acting assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment took part in a roundtable discussion at an Association of Defense Communities conference.
The service officials outlined strategies to adapt to future force structure changes and reductions in supporting infrastructure at U.S. and overseas military installations without compromising the nation’s defense capabilities.
Yonkers said the Air Force has taken on measures and efficiencies to sustain and modernize its core systems, develop a scalable and responsive force, and preserve readiness while taking care of airmen and their families.
He warned of paying for unnecessary infrastructure that “eats up” dollars better directed to modernization, sustaining weapons systems and supporting the quality-of-life improvements for airmen. He also lamented the possibility another half-trillion dollars pared from the defense budget over the next 10 years that will be triggered in January by a “sequestration” mechanism in the Budget Control Act if Congress fails to come up with an alternative. Sequestration, he said, would have “serious impact” on the Air Force’s ability to conduct its assigned missions.
But despite the new fiscal reality, Yonkers said, communities continue to demonstrate strong support and promising, innovative ideas in support of bases.
“We have 180 renewable energy projects in operation or under construction at 77 of our Air Force bases,” Yonkers said, also noting 20 solar, wind, waste, geothermal and biomass projects that will move the service closer to its goal of deploying one gigawatt of energy by 2016.
In California alone, the Air Force already has solar energy projects at Edwards Air Force Base and Travis AFB, he said. Combined and when complete, they will create 420 megawatts of power, he added.
As for the Army, officials have already announced its end-strength reductions could total about 80,000 soldiers by fiscal 2017, she said.
“The U.S. is at a strategic turning point after we’ve had over a decade of war,” Hammack said. “We know as the end-strength comes down, force structure changes will be required under the Budget Control Act.”
Base realignments and closures have proven to be effective and objective in reducing domestic infrastructure and reconfiguring what must remain, Hammack said. Four rounds of BRAC took place after the Cold War wound down and force structure was declining, she said, in contrast to the 2005 BRAC, which took place during a protracted war.
“The ’88, ’91, ’93 and ’95 rounds combined produced 97 major base closures, 55 significant realignments and $22 billion in implementation costs resulting in … $8 billion in annual reoccurring savings,” Hammack said.
BRAC 2005 enabled the Army to reset its infrastructure to accommodate the return of forces from Europe and South Korea while revitalizing the Army Reserve and National Guard, she added.
“In the last six years, we have closed 97 sites and returned 23,000 acres to host nations, she said. “In the next four years, we plan to close another 23 sites and return 21,000 acres, primarily in Germany,” Hammack said, citing similar progress in South Korea during the same time frame. There, the Army closed 34 sites, with 7,300 acres returned to the community and another 20 sites projected for closure, with 9,400 acres returned to the host nation.
“What remains in Korea and Germany, we believe, is necessary for the support of this nation,” she said.
The Army will continue to seek congressional authorization for additional rounds of BRAC, Hammack said, noting property conveyance remains a priority.
“Putting excess property back into productive reuse facilitates job creation, and that’s never more important than it is today,” she said. “We know that some of these properties have more extensive environmental remediation than others, but we focus on those that can be transferred for beneficial economic use as a first priority.”
Hammack also underscored the Army’s commitment to one of its largest endeavors yet: the deployment of three gigawatts of renewable energy on Army, Navy and Air Force installations by 2025. The Army has partnered with local communities and the services to ensure renewable, reliable energy through analysis of fuel, water and energy needs while reducing the load of power systems in a digital society, she said.
“Collectively, these advancements are changing both the technology we employ and the manner in which we plan and execute our operations,” Hammock said.
Similarly, the Navy will continue to pursue its energy goals through ongoing community and industry partnership, Natsuhara said.
“The big goals for us will be the 50 percent alternative energy for our bases,” he said. “We look forward to working with the communities as we look at renewable energy, microgrids and other (avenues) to meet all of our very aggressive goals.”
And while the BRAC process has reduced the service’s installations to from 150 to 70 in the U.S., the Navy now is in more of a “growth mode” overseas, as the new defense policy pivots attention to the Asia-Pacific region, Natsuhara said.
“We have quite an extensive program that we’re going to have to implement … very soon in Guam, Australia and Hawaii,” he said. “We’re also moving a few ships to Singapore.” A lot of these bases, he added, are going be of a different and unprecedented model.
“There are going to be less of the traditional bases where we have our families and modern support facilities,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure on our facility side as we go overseas.”
With fleet concentrations primarily in the northwest and southwest regions of the U.S., Natsuhara said, the Navy can benefit from being able to analyze how to make its bases more efficient as it further aligns its forces.
Community collaboration has produced successes along the way, he said, including Virginia’s Naval Air Station Oceana, which was considered for closure in 2005, but through legislation and joint councils, has become more compatible with the community.
“To date, the Oceana area and the state have contributed about $63 million in some of the land-use purchases to build more compatible lands,” he said.
At NAS Kingsville, Texas, the Navy worked with wind developers on private lands to make turbine operations compatible with air training operations, Natsuhara said.
“Wind turbines are an important part of the renewable energy push for this country,” he added, “and we’re a strong supporter of that.”