Top admiral: Oceana has ‘robust’ future

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Navy’s top admiral reiterated the service’s position that Oceana Naval Air Station is the most sensible location for an east coast fighter hub during an appearance before the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

“I need now, your Navy needs now, Naval Air Station Oceana,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, told the BRAC Commission on Thursday.

The service “looked at alternatives and we studied other options. None of them made much sense,” he said.

Oceana’s future is “robust” if state and local officials keep a pledge to limit additional residential and commercial development around the base in Virginia Beach, Mullen said. Gov. Mark R. Warner assured the panel the promise would be kept.

“We’ve heard the shot across the bow,” he said.

The BRAC Commission added Oceana to a list of bases being considered for closure in mid-July, quickly drawing the attention of business and community leaders.

Oceana, with a military and civilian staff of nearly 17,000, is home to about 140 F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets and about 50 F-14 Tomcats.

BRAC Chairman Anthony J. Principi, who toured the base Monday as part of a commission delegation, said Mullen’s remarks were “very, very important information,” but said the commission will also continue to study alternative sites to Oceana, where development has left many residents complaining that the jet traffic is disruptive.

“This is a serious issue because of the encroachment” on pilot training and other Oceana operations caused by development around the base, Principi said, adding that the search for an alternative base might ultimately agree with the Navy’s assessment.

Any decision regarding Oceana’s fate could have implications for Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico.

Last month, Principi asked whether the Pentagon had considered relocating the Master Jet Base at Oceana to Moody Air Force Base in Georgia and moving planes assigned to Moody to Cannon.

At the time, Principi said Cannon, which in on BRAC’s list of proposed base closures, appeared to have plenty of space and the right facilities to accommodate some of those planes. Cannon boosters also have suggested realigning Oceana as a way to keep Cannon open.

On Thursday, Principi also defended the commission against suggestions by U.S. Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., that commissioners or staffers have not been “transparent” in disclosing critical information about Oceana from inside the Navy or the Defense Department.

Law requires such contact with the commission to be “transparent” Warner said, so that advocates for the bases involved can examine and respond to information provided by the Pentagon. Otherwise, he said, “we have one hand tied behind our back.”

Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he’s asked Nevada Sen. John Ensign to investigate those allegations.

Principi later said he had had a private meeting with Adm. Vern Clark, Mullen’s predecessor, about Oceana and other Navy bases, and said the commission would make a record of their session public. He also said members “have been subjected to the most intense lobbying campaign in history” by congressmen trying to preserve their bases.

Mullen, who started in his job only two weeks ago, commended officials from Virginia Beach and Chesapeake for agreeing to cooperate in efforts to keep the base open by curbing development in the region, calling the gestures “very encouraging.”