Study weighs costs, benefits of options in shifting U.S. overseas forces
A new study by the Congressional Budget Office warns that a large shift in U.S. forces overseas to Eastern Europe, Africa or the States would cost a lot of money up front and might offer little or no benefit down the road.
The report, requested last winter by the Senate Budget Committee, predicts the costs and benefits of a range of options, from simply eliminating accompanied tours overseas to moving almost all soldiers based in Europe and South Korea home to the United States.
The study weighed the reduced costs of keeping up schools, houses and recreational facilities overseas against the added costs of building bases, barracks and houses for them in other places. It also analyzed how much faster troops could deploy to likely trouble spots, the number of troops ready to deploy, and the impact on family separation.
Among the study’s conclusions:
¶ Moving forces to new locations in Eastern Europe may only slightly improve their ability to respond faster to trouble spots.
¶ While rotating stateside-based forces to forward bases would cut overseas infrastructure costs, it would also reduce the number of troops available for operations and increase the time troops spend away from their families.
¶ Any major shift of forces will require “significant spending.”
¶ New overseas locations will not reduce the cost of maintaining troops.
While it makes sense that a report requested by the Senate Budget Committee would focus on pocketbook issues, the Bush administration’s reason for considering changes to the global force posture “was never about the money,” a Pentagon official familiar with global posture said Tuesday.
Instead, “the Secretary [of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld] has said from the beginning that we’ll move people where we need them” for strategic reasons, not as a money saving measure, the official said.
With the 2005 defense budget authorization bill on the Senate floor for vote, spokesmen for relevant congressional committees were unavailable for comment Tuesday.
It’s not clear yet what impact the Budget Office report will have on decisions about overseas bases.
However, while the plan to shift forces first seemed on a fast track to approval, it appears to be slowing down.
After a meeting with U.S. European Command commander Marine Gen. James L. Jones last week, the governor of the German state of Baden-Württemburg, Erwin Teufel, issued a statement saying he doubted any decisions about base closures would be announced before 2005.
That echoed a comment by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston two weeks ago to 1st Infantry Division soldiers and families in Würzburg. Preston said he expected no announcements until late next year, after Congress decides on its next round of stateside base closures.
This is noted in the report, which reads in part:
“Transferring tens of thousands of Army troops back to the United States could complicate preparations for the round of base realignments and closures being planned for 2005. Because of BRAC rounds carried out in the 1980s and 1990s, the Army has little or no excess capacity at bases in CONUS.
“Thus, increasing the population of Army personnel in CONUS — as these options would do by as much as 23 percent — would require building new facilities in this country. If closing existing bases is considered during the upcoming BRAC round, the need to house forces in the United States that are now stationed overseas could preclude some of those closures.”
Robert Work, a senior defense analyst with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis, said other matters have pushed overseas base closures off the Pentagon’s front burner.
“The discussions on the basing continue to go on,” he said. “But my sense is, with everything going on in Iraq and with the election in six months, I don’t expect we’ll see anything soon.”
The realignment of overseas troops — especially those in the Army — has been a centerpiece of the Bush administration’s “transformation” plans for the U.S. military.
Basing change sought
Rumsfeld has argued that the current basing structure, rooted in Cold War politics, is badly in need of an update.
Rumsfeld instead has called for a smaller, more mobile force that is based closer to the likely sites of future conflicts — places such as Africa, the Middle East or the oil-rich Caspian Sea region of the former Soviet Union.
Many of the older bases, such as Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, stand in areas that once were isolated but now are surrounded by cities, causing battles with local people over pollution and noise.
Last year, Rumsfeld negotiated a deal with the South Korean government to pull Army forces out of Seoul and into new bases farther from the North Korean border.
Jones outlined an ambitious plan to reduce the Army’s presence in Germany while boosting it in Eastern Europe and Africa, and returning thousands of troops to stateside bases. The Pentagon expected to announce specific base closures by fall, and rumors spread of shutdowns in Germany as early as this year.
Since then, the process has slowed down. Instead of announcing base closures last winter, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith announced a period of consultation with other branches of government and with allies.
Lt. Cmdr. Rick Haupt, a EUCOM spokesman, said the command just learned of the CBO study Tuesday and doesn’t yet have any comment on the findings.
“A fundamental decision has not been made yet,” he said.
Stars and Stripes reporter Lisa Burgess contributed to this report from the Pentagon.
The Congressional Budget Office recently released a report that studies a variety of options for changing the overseas basing of U.S. troops. The Department of Defense is considering how many troops should be stationed overseas and where. The different plans evaluated include:
Alternatives that would maintain the current level of forces overseas
PLAN 1A: Make European tours unaccompanied, no base changes
Upfront cost: $825 million
Annual cost compared with status quo: +$75 million
CBO analysis: Cost savings from reduced infrastructure overseas offset by cost of new barracks for unaccompanied soldiers and of moving soldiers every year instead of every three years. Soldiers would spend 60 percent more time away from families.
PLAN 1B: Make minor changes in German and South Korean basing and rotate brigade combat teams from Germany for six-month tours to austere forward operating bases in Eastern Europe
Upfront cost: $1.4 billion to $2.9 billion
Annual cost compared with status quo: +$225 million
CBO analysis: Added cost to operate FOBs in Eastern Europe. Would reduce time to deploy to Caspian or Mediterranean but not Africa or Middle East. Would reduce number of troops available for Army to deploy by 6,000 to 8,000.
PLAN 1C: Consolidate Army forces in South Korea at two bases south of Seoul and move three brigade combat teams in Germany to permanent bases in Eastern Europe
Upfront cost: $2.9 billion to $5.0 billion
Annual cost compared with status quo: +$25 million
CBO analysis: Small additional annual cost. Would speed deployments to Caspian and Mediterranean. Would increase family separation.
Alternatives that would cut the level of Army forces stationed overseas by half
PLAN 2A: Halve forces stationed overseas and maintain current level of overseas presence by rotating six brigade combat teams from U.S.
Upfront cost: $8.4 billion to $9.4 billion
Annual cost compared with status quo: No difference
CBO analysis: Large upfront cost to construct new basing in U.S. and Eastern Europe; annual costs unchanged. Reduces deployment time to Caspian but boosts deployment time to South Korea. Makes 28,000 to 34,000 fewer troops available for deployment because of rotations. Increases family separation time by 17 percent.
PLAN 2B: Halve forces stationed overseas and rotate one brigade combat team from Germany to Eastern Europe
Upfront cost: $4.8 billion to $5.8 billion
Annual cost compared with status quo: -$500 million
CBO analysis: Saves money. Decreases deployment times to Mediterranean, Black Sea and Caspian. Reduces family separation time by 9 percent.
Alternatives that would remove almost all Army forces stationed overseas
PLAN 3A: Move nearly all forces to continental United States and continuously rotate three brigade combat teams to Europe and South Korea
Upfront cost: $6.8 billion to $7.4 billion
Annual cost compared with status quo: -$925 million
CBO analysis: Substantial cost savings. Slight reduction in family separation time. Mixed impact on deployment times (large increase to South Korea). Reduces number of troops available for deployment by 9,000 to 15,000.
PLAN 3B: Eliminate nearly all forces from Germany and South Korea
Upfront cost: $6.8 billion to $7.4 billion
Annual cost compared with status quo: -$1.2 billion
CBO analysis: Large cost savings. Cuts family separation time by 22 percent. Substantial increase in deployment time to South Korea. Removal of U.S. forces might increase likelihood of war.
SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office.