SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE — No one really knows if Scott Air Force Base will appear on the list of proposed base closings, despite the fact it was never seriously considered for closing in three previous rounds.
One reason is that previous rounds identified the easy closings — the bases the Pentagon really had not needed for years, even during the Carter-Reagan military build-up.
As the home of U.S. Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command — formerly Military Airlift Command — and several other important headquarters, Scott was considered safe.
But its very importance as a headquarters base could put Scott on the closing list. An examination of the data Scott submitted during the 1993 closure round shows that, unlike most Air Force bases, it has only a limited flying mission — and cannot easily expand to accept more aircraft.
In fact, last year when he still was commander of Air Mobility Command,
now-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman reportedly said that
if the command was directed to nominate a base for closing, his only option
would be to name Scott. Every other Air Mobility Command
base has an essential flying mission.
The data Scott submitted this year will not be made public until the Pentagon's list of suggested closings is announced March 1. But most of the data is expected to be similar to that submitted in 1993.
The independent commission which makes the final base closing
recommendations bases its decisions on a variety of criteria, including
the quality of life for military personnel at the base, the economic impact
closing the base would have on the surrounding community, the
cost of replicating operations at the base somewhere else and the cost of environmental cleanup.
But the first criteria is the base's overall importance to military operations. In the Air Force, that means basing and flying aircraft. The data shows that Scott's single runway and limited parking and hanger space are not enough to support major flying operations.
According to the 1993 data:
• Scott's single runway is not strong enough for daily use by B-52 and B-1B heavy bombers, KC-135 and KC-10 aerial refueling tankers, and C-141 and C-5 cargo planes.
• The porous friction surface
of the runway would be damaged by the afterburners of fighters like the
F-16 and would have to be replaced before fighters could be based at Scott.
The base also would have to install arresting gear to stop a fighter whose
drag parachute failed on
• Current airspace and noise restrictions do not interfere with daily aeromedical evacuation missions and training, but could present problems for any new missions.
• The only kind of additional flying mission Scott could easily support would be a squadron of C-130 cargo planes.
"I'd like to sit here and tell you that I feel confident that we are going to be able to keep Scott, but I can't do that," retired Brig. Gen. Floyd "Rick" Hargrove said last week.
Hargrove, who was inspector general for Military Airlift Command from 1987 through 1989 and, more recently, deputy director of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, heads the Belleville office of the Southwestern Illinois Base Realignment and Closure Task Force. The task force was established in recent weeks to fight for Scott and the Army's Charles Melvin Price Support Center in Granite City.
Right now, the military services are finalizing their lists of proposed closings and realignments and are expected to give them to Secretary of Defense William Perry this week. By law, Perry must give the Pentagon's list to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission by March 1. Former Sen. Alan Dixon of Belleville chairs that commission.
"The reason that we're concerned this year is because the secretary of defense has said that this year is probably going to be a larger BRAC than any of the three we've previously had," Hargrove said.
Last month, Perry took a step back from that prediction when he told
the U.S. Conference of Mayors that this round could be smaller than the
one in 1993. The military services now believe that it would be too difficult
and too costly in the short term to close as many bases as
originally envisioned, Perry said.
It takes five or six years to close a base, during which it costs more than keeping it open. But by not closing bases, the Pentagon gives up long-term savings.
Originally Published, February 13, 1995, Belleville News Democrat,
(c) 1995, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill
GWI Anthrax Gen. Borisov Other Military Stories