The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The Defense Department, in a letter to the commission reviewing Pentagon’s list of recommended base closings, defended its decision to close Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico.
Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said in his letter Thursday that Cannon, near Clovis, was too limited in space and infrastructure and too remote compared to other bases.
For those reasons, the department did not consider a plan that would have moved planes to Cannon and allowed the base to stay open, England wrote.
Cannon is one of 33 major bases around the country the Pentagon has suggested closing.
England’s comment frustrated New Mexico’s congressional leaders, who have argued the Pentagon used faulty data to justify the base’s closure.
“It’s clear the Air Force is not going to willingly deviate from its original assessment of Cannon, even though we’ve shown the (Base Realignment and Closure) commission point-by-point just how flawed that assessment is,” Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said in a statement.
He and others said they will continue to argue against closing Cannon.
Earlier this month, the chairman of the BRAC commission, Anthony Principi, raised hopes in New Mexico by asking whether the department had considered relocating the Master Jet Base at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia to Moody Air Force Base in Georgia and moving planes assigned to Moody to Cannon.
At hearings in Washington on Monday and Tuesday, BRAC members will consider whether other bases should be on the closure list.
Principi said Cannon appeared to have plenty of space and the right facilities to accommodate some of those planes.
Cannon boosters also have suggested realigning Oceana as a way to keep Cannon open.
But England wrote that the plan didn’t make sense based on the Defense Department’s analysis.
Although there are long-term problems at Oceana, England wrote that it would cost too much — almost $500 million — to move the air station to Moody.
Cannon didn’t rank as highly as Moody in the Pentagon’s analysis, and has no significant joint training opportunities nearby, England wrote.
Moody, on the other hand, “remains one of the Air Force’s most valuable installations,” England wrote.
New Mexico’s congressional delegation and state and Clovis leaders have argued intensely since the closure list was released in mid-May that Cannon has important military value to the U.S. and should remain open.
Cannon’s supporters contend it is the only spot in the nation where airspace is increasing.
The Air Force has been working to expand the training range around Cannon — both in space and supersonic capabilities. The base’s supporters have expressed frustration that the Pentagon did not take the planned expansion into account in its analysis.
“The Pentagon’s response to Chairman Principi’s letter underscores just how shortsighted they were in their flawed recommendation to close Cannon,” Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said.
The commission’s recommendations are due to President Bush by Sept. 8. He may accept or reject the entire list. If he accepts it, it goes to Congress for a yes or no vote, again on the entire list.
In past years, about 85 percent of base closures recommended by the Pentagon have remained on the commission’s list.