Cannon closure decision defended

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

The size and location of Cannon Air Force Base precluded the Department of Defense from considering a scenario that may have spared the base from closure.

In a letter dated Thursday and posted on the Base Realignment and Closure Web site, acting Deputy of Defense Secretary Gordon England, said the department did not consider the plan because Cannon 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 allow the base to stay open, England wrote.

“It’s clear the Air Force is not going to willingly deviate from its original assessment of Cannon, even though we’ve shown the commission point-by-point just how flawed that assessment is,” Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said in a joint press release. “Our job will be to continue to work with the commission to underscore the assets the Pentagon is overlooking at Cannon.

“Put simply, Cannon’s military value for accommodating A-10s is much higher than DOD is saying and the Air Force analysis is flawed.”

New Mexico’s congressional delegation, state and Clovis leaders have argued intensely since the closure list was released in mid-May that Cannon has important military value and should remain open.

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.

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.

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.

Chad Lydick, a Clovis businessman and a member of a committee supporting Cannon, pointed to the base’s proximity to Fort Bliss, an Army air defense artillery center located in El Paso, Texas, 255 miles from Clovis.

He also referenced a “Roving Sands” exercise hosted in March by Cannon. According to one military Web site, the mission is the “world’s largest joint theater air and missile defense exercise.”

Capt. Kok of Cannon Public Affairs said the Roving Sands exercise involved a contingency of Navy F-18 fighter aircraft. He added that the exercises can involve the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force.

Lydick’s faith in the BRAC process and the possibility that commissioners may explore other pro-Cannon scenarios hasn’t been dampened by the Department of Defense response letter.

“The BRAC staff will continue to explore scenarios that involve Cannon, so I don’t put a lot of stock into one scenario over another,” Lydick said.

At least seven of the nine BRAC commissioners must vote to add or remove an installation to the Pentagon’s original BRAC list. Principi has indicated that the commission would begin final deliberations on its BRAC recommendations during the week of Aug. 22, according to a press release from Domenici’s office.

The Commission’s decisions are scheduled to be delivered to the president by Sept. 8.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.