BRAC could start overseas

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If you want to strike fear into a city like Colorado Springs, where our local and regional economy leans so heavily on the military, all you have to do is bring up that most dreaded acronym.

BRAC.

In plain English, it means Base Realignment and Closure of military installations, a process that over the past quarter-century has led to reductions and consolidations in 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005. We’ve heard some rumors in the past year or so of the Pentagon beginning to plan for another BRAC, as a result of budget cuts caused by sequestration.

But we’ve also heard that many determined Republicans, by virtue of having their clear majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, do not want to see any further cuts in military spending. That had led many observers to conclude that no matter how much we hear it mentioned, another BRAC won’t happen.

Last week, though, a different — and probably more realistic — outlook surfaced during the annual Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance’s trip for regional leaders to Washington, D.C. It’s clear now that if the current budget battles continue in Congress without a solution, and if the Pentagon has to begin the new fiscal year on Oct. 1 by facing the reality of continued sequestration indefinitely, another BRAC process will happen as soon as 2017. And that could mean implementation by 2017, meaning the wheels would begin turning sooner.

This doesn’t mean Colorado Springs is guaranteed to suffer, though the defense contractors will start feeling the crunch soon. They’ve held up fairly well in the past year because of existing contracts, but the federal budget cuts come into play whenever contracts are renewed.

The strategy might begin with looking around the world, not simply at home.

When the local leaders met with our delegation in Congress, another idea surfaced that we might be hearing more in days ahead. Put simply, the BRAC strategy might begin with looking around the world, not simply at home. U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Denver, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a veteran himself, said he believes the time has come to reconsider how much we need huge military installations overseas.

At the moment, America has more than 45,000 troops in Germany alone, including about 30,000 in the Army and 14,000 in the Air Force. We also have about 80,000 now deployed in Asia, mainly Japan and Korea, divided fairly evenly among the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines.

Coffman would close many of those bases and bring thousands of those soldiers home, though it’s clear he would see those numbers as a way of cushioning any overall force reduction before impacting bases at home. Meanwhile, Rep. Doug Lamborn — also on that Armed Services Committee — doesn’t want any more military spending cuts at all. But as long as the far-right element of the House Republicans has the power to influence outcomes, it’s safe to say that the Pentagon will have to face more belt-tightening.

It’s encouraging to see lawmakers such as Coffman thinking of reassessing our military presence in foreign nations. By starting any further defense reductions overseas, the Pentagon (and Congress) also would put off what’s certain to be a nasty political battle as states — including Colorado — fight to keep the military assets they already have.

We’ll take that for now.