The U.S. Defense Department plans to shift money around and claim they are “saving money.”
According to Bloomberg, the Department plans to close 15 American bases in Europe and also base two new squadrons of F-35 fighter jets in the U.K.
Consolidation of U.S. posts across Europe will save the Pentagon about $500 million annually when it’s completed in five or six years.
However, the Pentagon must first spend $1.4 billion to move and close operations, according to John Conger, the acting deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment who outlined the plan at a briefing.
The restructuring will result in a net decrease of about 2,000 U.S. military and civilian personnel in Europe, according to Defense Department figures.
The plan calls for permanently basing the F-35s at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in the U.K. starting in 2020.
The biggest closures would also occur in the U.K., where the U.S. will return three major installations — Royal Air Force Mildenhall, RAF Alconbury and RAF Molesworth — and their supporting sites, resulting in a net decrease of about 2,000 Americans in the country.
More than 74,000 U.S. military and civilian personnel are based in Europe, according to a fact sheet provided by U.S. European Command on its website.
The Pentagon has sought for years to close domestic bases in the U.S. to save billions of dollars annually, as it tries to shed extra facilities after a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Lawmakers have, however, blocked such efforts, questioning the cost savings and the potential loss of thousands of military jobs in their districts.
Instead, they have pressed the Defense Department to consolidate bases in Europe. The overseas closings, which the Pentagon said will take five to six years to complete, don’t require congressional action, although lawmakers could bar needed funding.
Congress already has approved a $985 million “European Reassurance Initiative” that President Barack Obama sought to upgrade some facilities, enhance regional training exercises and help strengthen the military capacity of eastern European allies and nations such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, according to the Pentagon.
The reassurance was offered after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and backed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“We have been working with our allies to reposition thousands of our military and civilian personnel within the region,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement. “This transformation of our infrastructure will help maximize our military capabilities in Europe so that we can best support our NATO allies and partners in the region.”
The loss of Mildenhall will remove 3,200 U.S. personnel, offset partially by 1,200 going to RAF Lakenheath with the F-35 fighters. The Defense Department is working to bolster foreign sales and support for the F-35, which is still in development even as it’s being produced by Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed.
However, Germany and Italy will each gain several hundred U.S. personnel in the reorganization, offset by the loss of about 500 in Portugal.
Did anyone reading this know that the U.S. had military in Portugal?
While operations already had been scaled back at many of the bases targeted for closing or restructuring, the loss of some have resonance because of their military history.
Royal Air Force Alconbury, for example, was one of the main bases used by the U.S. Eighth Air Force’s B-24 and B-17 heavy bombers against Nazi Germany in World War II. During the Cold War, the U.S. stationed high-altitude U-2 spy planes at Alconbury.
Alconbury’s runway and flight line were already closed in the mid-1990’s, and it now operates as a “non-flying facility” under the control of the U.S. Air Force, according to the base’s website.