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Hawaii to lose more than $200M for military construction

More than half of the $449.5 million in projected military construction for Hawaii was axed from the Defense Department's 2015 budget request, and some other programs are being reduced or eliminated as the Pentagon starts to roll out the latest round of cuts.

Marine Corps Base Hawaii, which is in a period of growth, would be particularly hard hit by the cutbacks, with $104.5 million for a headquarters/operations center, $65.4 million for a bachelor enlisted quarters, $62.9 million for airfield electrical system upgrades and $5.4 million for MV-22 tilt-rotor Osprey landing zone improvements all reduced to zero for 2015.

The active Army is scheduled for a massive reduction from its wartime high of 570,000 to between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers — or even a force of 420,000 if sequestration persists into 2016.

The cuts are part of a $495.6 billion defense budget proposal released March 4.

The Army has yet to firmly establish its role in the Pacific in the postwar era, and the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Schofield Barracks and its 4,300 soldiers and eight-wheeled armored vehicles are seen as vulnerable to removal in the new environment, officials said.

Also as part of the planned reductions, the Pentagon's STARBASE educational program is being terminated, and the "Operationally Responsive Space" program, which works with the University of Hawaii, will not be funded in 2015, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa's office said.

Funding for the Maui Space Surveillance System would drop to $14 million from $26.3 million, and $15 million requested for Saddle Road improvements on Hawaii island was reduced to zero.

Hanabusa, a Democratic member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the budget reductions that fall within the U.S. Pacific Command's area of responsibility are "inconsistent with our nation's stated goal of a re-balance to the Asia Pacific region."

Hanabusa said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's characterization of Hawaii as the "gateway" to that shift is appropriate.

But questions increasingly are being asked whether the United States will be able to effect that re-balance with competing demands around the world.

Adm. Samuel Locklear III, head of the Pacific Command, told a congressional panel this month that the United States is waning as a global maritime power and that because of this "depressed readiness," his ability to provide crisis response has "not been available to the level that I would consider acceptable risk."

Hanabusa noted that the defense request was a result of constraints set by the Bipartisan Budget Act, which provided some relief from sequestration this fiscal year and next.

"I voted against this bill because I knew it would produce a budget that had significant negative impacts to the state of Hawaii and result in increased risks and challenges to our national security," Hanabusa said.

She reiterated the need to repeal sequestration.

The Defense Department is absorbing a 10-year, $487 billion cut in spending that began in fiscal 2012, and sequestration reductions of about $50 billion annually. U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, noted that the approximately $496 billion Pentagon budget request is unchanged from the funding levels in 2013 and 2014, and is more than $30 billion below defense funding in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

By comparison, China is increasing its defense budget 12.2 percent to $132 billion. The figure is much lower than U.S. spending, but China doesn't have the same global commitments.

Expected Hawaii military construction spending for the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, now stands at $212 million.

Hanabusa added that the effects reach beyond the military.

"It's also our local economy, right?" she said. "We've lost more than 50 percent of what was anticipated to come in terms of our military construction."

Hanabusa said she worries in particular about planning for growth at the Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps base, which is supposed to get 24 tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft starting in 2015 and 2,700 Marines from Okinawa, Japan, several years later.

With the bachelor enlisted quarters and airfield electrical distribution system being cut, "the question then becomes, How will we then add the Ospreys, how will we then be preparing for the movement from (Okinawa)?" Hanabusa said. "How are we going to do that if we're cutting these critical things?"

One possible scenario is delaying the plans for the Marines. Another is that some funding will be restored in a White House proposal — seen as a long shot — to add $26 billion in overall defense funding through the Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative.

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