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WA lawmakers say Puget Sound should fare well under Obama’s new defense plan

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on Jan. 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
January 5, 2012 5:00 pm

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 for aircraft carrier maintenance at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton and a carrier consistently anchored in Everett, Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, said. Naval Base Kitsap should be able to continue with its $700 million upgrade to its explosive 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 and Lewis-McChord’s 62nd Airlift Wing delivers humanitarian and combat supplies worldwide.

“These are the best of the best,” Dicks said.

Lewis-McChord 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.

Still, Dicks said the base’s three Stryker brigades were designed to be rapidly deployable and they could remain a priority for the Army.

“They’ll have to decide what kind of an Army they want in the future,” Dicks said. “If they want to maintain their Stryker brigades, they may well keep it.”

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, expects Lewis-McChord to maintain its present size as the Army consolidates 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 in an interview. “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, did 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 endorsed Obama’s plan, but said he feared it would implemented too quickly.

“We’re in a very difficult fiscal environment and we’re going to have to do this,” he said. “I hope we can do it a year or so from now because we still need an economic recovery and contractors are providing work. (The cuts) could adversely the recovery, which is finally starting to take off.”

Smith also endorsed Obama’s plan.

“Not only does the strategic review clearly articulate the threats we face, but it also shows that simply spending more money on defense does not necessarily makes us safer – spending more wisely and effectively does.” Smith said in a press release. “Clearly, we do not have an endless amount of resources, and that should be taken into consideration, but it should not be the driving force behind our national security strategy. As demonstrated by the strategy laid out today, the administration fully understands this fact.”

Here’s the key excerpt from new defense guidance related to the Pacific. You can read the full document here.

“U.S. economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities. Accordingly, while the U.S. military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region. Our relationships with Asian allies and key partners are critical to the future stability and growth of the region. We will emphasize our existing alliances, which provide a vital foundation for Asia-Pacific security. We will also expand our networks of cooperation with emerging partners throughout the Asia-Pacific to ensure collective capability and capacity for securing common interests. The United States is also investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region. Furthermore, we will maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula by effectively working with allies and other regional states to deter and defend against provocation from North Korea, which is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program.”

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