By R.L. “Rube” Render: Guest columnist
The strategy proposed by local supporters to keep Cannon Air Force Base may be defective. Here’s a more logical idea: Encourage Base Realignment and Closure commissioners to make Cannon home to a fleet of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
Cannon supporters have suggested closing the Naval Air Station at Oceana in Virginia, moving those planes to Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, then moving planes assigned to Moody to Cannon.
A lot of dominoes have to fall for Cannon to remain open under that scenario.
To keep Cannon open, we must demonstrate to BRAC commissioners that the cost of closing the base exceeds the anticipated savings that would occur as a result of the closure — or we must propose a new and critical mission for Cannon that is not being performed elsewhere.
Cannon supporters should focus on that second option.
Although the Air Force is drastically reducing its number of piloted aircraft, the number of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles will explode over the next 10 years. These planes can be used for close air support, surveillance, bombing and other missions without placing our military personnel in harm’s way.
The Air Force plans to deploy an undetermined number of UAVs to Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota. The addition of Cannon as a UAV facility would enhance the nation’s Homeland Security mission.
Grand Forks UAV assets could provide Border Patrol assistance and surveillance on the northern border while Cannon would provide those same functions on the southern border. There is a rational argument to be made that the Southern border is the more critical of the two.
Air Force personnel would find a ready-made, real-time training scenario available on both borders. U.S. Border Patrol personnel could also train at either facility, and could house and maintain any UAV assets they acquire for exclusive Border Patrol use at the appropriate base.
Separating UAV assets geographically also makes sense from a security aspect.
Cannon would be an ideal home for UAVs for the following reasons:
• Unfettered airspace is critical for successful UAV training.
• New Mexico’s terrain is consistent with that of current areas of hostile operations outside the Continental United States — from the desert to the mountains.
• And, of course, the Air Force considers the Melrose Bombing Range an asset whether Cannon remains open or not.
BRAC commissioners on July 19 decided to add Oceana to the list of installations it will consider for closure.
However, commissioners determined that several factors prevent the movement of Oceana to Moody: lack of an ocean environment for training purposes; lack of available housing; lack of airspace; and a community that could not readily absorb the incoming population such a move would entail.
So movement of assets from Moody to Cannon seems unlikely.
Moving assets from any other base to Cannon is also unlikely as the Department of Defense already has outlined plans for moving planes from closed facilities.
Using Cannon to house UAVs makes more sense.
The Marine Corps Air Ground Training Center in California and the Army’s Fort Irwin at Barstow, Calif., are home to two of the largest Combined Arms Exercises in the country. Closer to home, Fort Bliss and Fort Hood (both in Texas) hold regularly scheduled exercises.
The addition of UAVs into their training scenarios would provide invaluable experience to our ground units. The same is true of military bases across the southern United States.
The U.S. military will not long retain the advantage of being the only armed force with UAV assets available. The number of UAVs is certain to increase in the coming decades. Their pluses as well as their minuses should be demonstrated to opposing commanders in any scheduled Combined Arms Exercise.
This could be accomplished using UAVs housed and maintained at Cannon AFB. Cannon is geographically and strategically situated to play a leading role in this vital mission.
R.L. “Rube” Render is a retired Marine gunnery sergeant. Contact him at: