Spending on military construction in Washington State continues to rise in President Obama’s 2013 budget request despite talk of nationwide defense cuts.
The state would gain $581 million for work at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Naval Base Kitsap and Naval Station Whidbey Island, up from $519 million in Obama’s 2012 defense budget.
About half of the state’s military construction work in 2013 would take place at Lewis-McChord. The base south of Tacoma stands to receive $91 million for a long-awaited sewage plant upgrade, as well as $73 million for a new battalion complex.
The base’s growing Special Forces units are in line for better facilities, too. The budget calls for $46.5 million to develop a 1st Special Forces Group operations center and nearly $4 million for a military working dog kennel that would benefit the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
The 1st Special Forces Group in August expanded by adding a fourth battalion at Lewis-McChord, an addition that brought another 400 Green Berets to the South Sound. Those soldiers continually deploy to war zones and to Pacific nations where they train foreign allies. The base has about 1,500 soldiers in the 1st Special Forces Group.
The Ranger battalion, likewise, deploys often to Afghanistan and reports to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
Lewis-McChord would see another $75 million for two Army Reserve and Washington National Guard projects if Congress adopts Obama’s budget. Each project is called a readiness center, with $40 million going to the Army Reserves and $35 million headed to the National Guard.
The National Guard project would house its Information Operations Group, which is tasked with impacting foreign information systems and protecting U.S. networks, National Guard spokesman Capt. Keith Kosik said.
The Army has announced plans to reduce its active-duty ranks by some 80,000 soldiers in coming years, but it’s unclear how those cuts would play out in the Northwest. Washington lawmakers believe the state is well positioned to maintain its defense installations even as the Army draws down its numbers.
Naval Base Kitsap would see the largest single expense among Washington’s projects in the defense budget. The budget frees up $280 million toward the construction of a $700 million explosives handling wharf. Naval Base Kitsap is the home port of eight Trident ballistic-missile submarines.
The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday is expected to hold its first hearing on the defense proposal. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, is the ranking Democrat on the committee. He has endorsed Obama’s overall goal of reducing defense spending while continuing to invest in tools to fight specific threats.
“I have consistently said that we can rationally evaluate our national security strategy, our defense expenditures, and the current set of missions we ask the military to undertake and come up with a strategy that enhances national security by spending taxpayer dollars more wisely and effectively. I believe this budget meets that goal,” Smith said in a written statement.
His counterpart on the committee, Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., has criticized Obama’s plans as “leading from behind.”