President Obama’s new defense strategy plays to the strengths of the Puget Sound’s military resources and could shield the region from severe cuts in Pentagon spending, lawmakers said Thursday.
The new defense guidance prioritizes threats along the Pacific Rim and maintains spending on the nation’s fleet of 11 aircraft carriers.
That direction could translate to steady work at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton and at the aircraft carrier port in Everett, said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair. Naval Base Kitsap should be able to continue with a $700 million upgrade to its explosives-handling wharf, Dicks said.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, likewise, has Pacific-focused assets that will remain important as the wars in the Middle East end. The base’s 1st Special Forces Group collaborates with Pacific Rim allies on training and counterterrorism efforts. Lewis-McChord’s 62nd Airlift Wing delivers humanitarian and combat supplies worldwide.
The base south of Tacoma has nearly doubled in size since 2003 with 34,000 active-duty soldiers. Obama’s defense guidance calls for an overall reduction in the Army’s ranks from 570,000 to 490,000, and Lewis-McChord could feel that contraction.
But Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, expects Lewis-McChord to maintain its size because he anticipates the Army will continue consolidating resources at major bases.
Lewis-McChord is the largest military base on the West Coast. Smith is the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee.
“Lewis-McChord is the main power projection point toward the Pacific,” he said. “It is going to continue to be a center of activity and probably growth.”
Dicks, the ranking member on the House subcommittee on defense appropriations, does not see threats to the region’s major military contracts. Two Boeing-made planes, the Navy P-8A and the Air Force’s new refueling tanker, remain funded. Those two projects helped make 2011 a banner year for military contracts in Washington state with $6.5 billion in new work.
Dicks and Smith endorsed Obama’s plan, but Dicks said he feared it would be implemented too quickly.
“I hope we can do it a year or so from now because we still need an economic recovery and contractors are providing work,” Dicks said. “(The cuts) could adversely affect the recovery, which is finally starting to take off.”
Smith’s counterpart on the House Armed Services Committee, California Republican Rep. Buck McKeon, lambasted Obama’s cutback strategy. But Smith said the plan balances the nation’s defense priorities with the need to trim federal spending.
“You can’t just look at the defense budget from the last 10 years and say ‘we can’t cut a penny,’” Smith said in response to McKeon’s criticism. “Sticking your head in the sand and saying, ‘No, it has to keep growing, it has to keep growing’ is not a strategy.”
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/military