Congress probably won’t approve a new round of base closures this year, but it could happen next year, an advocate for Robins Air Force Base told community leaders Tuesday.
Dan Rhoades, the new director of strategy for the 21st Century Partnership, said the National Defense Authorization Act that the Senate approved Monday night did not include a proposed amendment allowing a new Base Realignment and Closure Commission, or BRAC.
Speaking to a meeting of the partnership at the Museum of Aviation, Rhoades said House and Senate members still have to meet to reconcile differences between versions of the bill that each body passed. But he said he does not expect a BRAC will be approved this year.
“It could always come back up,” Rhoades said. “If it doesn’t happen this year, I suspect it will happen next year. There’s a building support within both the House and the Senate to move forward.
“A lot of what you are seeing in the language in both the House and the Senate is how we are going to do BRAC, not whether we are going to do BRAC.”
The Department of Defense has called for a new BRAC — which includes a detailed assessment of all military properties — for the past five years, saying that it has excess infrastructure due to downsizing. Congress has authorized five rounds of BRAC since 1988.
Opponents in Congress argue that the last BRAC in 2005 did not achieve the desired savings. Lawmakers are wary of base closures because they mean jobs — and revenue — would be lost in home districts. The Defense Department has estimated that it could save billions of dollars each year by cutting real estate from its network of installations across the country.
A report to Congress by the Defense Department in 2016 estimated that it has 22 percent more base capacity that it needs, and that the Air Force has 32 percent excess capacity.
Rhoades also talked about news last week that the Air Force is reconsidering whether to move forward with buying new planes for the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or J-STARS, based at Robins.
Rhoades said the Air Force’s main concern about J-STARS is its potential for getting shot down. That’s not a concern in current conflicts, but it could be in the future. A drone aircraft equipped for a similar mission could also get shot down, but a crew would not be at risk, he said.
Another alternative to J-STARS that has been considered is the use of satellites. Rhoades said the problem there is that satellites circle the Earth at a set schedule, and the enemy can track that and know when the satellites are overhead.
Enemy forces cannot do that with J-STARS, he said. J-STARS can track enemy ground movements over a large area and relay that information instantly to commanders on the ground.
Rhoades said five previous studies have shown that J-STARS are the best option of the mission, and there have been no advances in technology that would change that.