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Discussion about the possibilities of another round of Base Realignments and Closures (BRAC) and its potential impact to the region highlighted the quarterly Naval Support Activity South Potomac (NSASP) Community Relations (COMREL) Council meeting Feb. 15.

The council met at the Jaycee's Community Center in Waldorf, Md., where guest speaker Anthony Principi, chairman of the 2005 BRAC Commission, addressed speculation about when and how a new BRAC process will commence.

Candace Quinn Kelly , president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners, welcomed guests and said the board would work to protect Naval Support Facility (NSF) Indian Head.

"We are carefully following the information, the news, with regard to BRAC," said Kelly. "We're beginning to gear up to have a very good, sound understanding of what [another BRAC] will mean for Charles County and for our base."

BRAC prospects

Memories of the 2005 BRAC law are still fresh in the minds of the military communities it affected; the last of that commission's recommended 837 closure and realignment actions were implemented in 2011. Established by Congress to provide "objective, non-partisan, and independent review and analysis" of Department of Defense (DoD) infrastructure, the 2005 BRAC Commission recommended Congress undertake another BRAC by 2015.

"One of the more popular parlor games this past year has been to guess when, not if, another there will be calls for another BRAC," said Principi. "If anyone here predicted there would be another round in 2013, they would make a great, great candidate to be the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, because I don't think anyone expected that Secretary [of Defense Leon] Panetta would announce BRAC in 2013.

"The fact that the secretary is calling for a BRAC round in 2013 and 2015 does not necessarily mean that there will be BRAC rounds in either of those years."

Principi said he did not expect another BRAC round to begin until at least 2015, but cautioned communities to begin demonstrating the "military value" of their installations. "I do believe that Congress has absolutely no choice, but to authorize a BRAC round in 2015 or 2016," he said.

Unlike the 2005 BRAC, which focused on the "transformation" of the military as envisioned by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Principi said the future BRAC would reflect the Pentagon's current emphasis on reducing its budget growth, as directed by Congress in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Congress' looming $1.2 trillion in sequestration cuts to the federal budget may also affect any future BRAC process.

In light of the stressed budgetary picture, installations may face workforce cuts whether or not they are on a BRAC list. Even strong investments in the military value of bases may not be enough to prevent some installations from closure, though Principi noted that such investments certainly improved an installation's prospects.

The ability to efficiently combat terrorism and project power abroad requires the military to pursue new technologies, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Therein lies the dilemma facing any BRAC commission, said Principi, which must balance costs and while protecting and prioritizing research, development, acquisition, test and evaluation (RDAT&E) activities.

The 2005 BRAC Commission's answer to that question saw the Navy co-locate 10 such activities to Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake, while maintaining specialty and energetic sites at NSF Dahlgren and NSF Indian Head respectively.

"There was a great deal of discussion during [the 2005] BRAC round among commissioners and staff about Dahlgren and Indian Head," said Principi. "DoD considered Indian Head for closure, but pulled it from its list prior to submission to the commission."

Principi said the Pentagon's decision to keep Indian Head open was consistent with the "governing criteria" of his commission. "I would question the need for any major lab consolidations in the next BRAC round," he said. "Protecting our nation's investment in intellectual capital, the strategic values of dispersion and defense in depth, are critical to our defense posture in this post 9/11 world.

"Once we lose that intellectual capital, it will take a generation to rebuild," he maintained.

Though the Pentagon initially recommended that Dahlgren's range activities be relocated to Picatinny Arsenal in 2005, the BRAC Commission decided that idea "ignored operational efficiency and expertise" in Dahlgren.

Principi later added that encroachment is a serious threat to the viability of Dahlgren's Potomac River Test Range (PRTR) and stressed the importance of local community leadership working with the Navy to address the problem.

With a future BRAC all but officially announced, Principi offered some advice to community and military leadership at the COMREL.

"I would be working very hard now, to remind the assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, and the Navy leadership, on daily basis that Indian Head is the center of excellence for energetics," he told the council.

"My message to you today is to continue to work to enhance and expand your military value. Certainly the recently announced [Enhanced Use Lease] public/private partnership to develop a 30 megawatt [electric] plant is a step in the right direction."

Principi re-emphasized the importance of preparing for BRAC now when he addressed questions from audience members. "You know that behind the scenes, [DoD leadership] is working on which bases, which labs, they want to consolidate, close or realign. So I think now is the time to get ready, because once the list comes out, it's almost too late. If [an installation] makes the list, there's an 86-percent chance you're going to close... so first and foremost you want to stay off the list. So you start preparing now."

How a new BRAC would be different

"The original cost estimate to implement the entire [2005] BRAC recommendations has gone from $24 billion to over $35 billion," said Principi. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reduced the cost savings projections from the 2005 BRAC from the $47.8 billion originally estimated by the Pentagon, to only $10 billion. Cost estimates and the data they are based on must be more accurate this time around, said Principi, especially since a future BRAC round would focus on cost savings.

Any new BRAC will mandate stricter environmental clean-up of military properties; only 33 of NSF Indian Head's 70 sites requiring substantial environmental mitigation have been addressed. Previous BRAC rounds only mandated that the military address any environmental damage caused by "current use," after which the military could then vacate the property. Principi expected any new BRAC to require a more thorough clean-up to give communities more options to develop former DoD properties in the wake of a BRAC action.

A new BRAC may even become law alongside provisions to rid the federal government of excess, non-military properties. "There is no civilian BRAC," said Principi, "although legislation has passed the House, pending in the Senate, to create a mechanism to eliminate some 45,000 federal properties through a BRAC-like process over the next 10 years. The Defense Department is exempt from the House version."

If debating when another BRAC may commence has been this year's most popular parlor game, the runner-up is speculating about which branch of the service will be most affected. For the Army, Principi thought only minor realignments and closures, with a focus on foreign bases, will materialize. The Marine Corps, Navy and especially the Air Force, however, should expect more BRAC actions.

"The Air Force today has 20 percent excess infrastructure," said Principi. "That's before any budget cuts." Likewise, the perennially-discussed Marine Corps Recruit Depots and the Navy's downsizing of its submarine force suggest there will be room for closures and realignments.

NSASP Updates

Capt. Pete Nette, NSASP commanding officer, contributed some additional input on his installations' BRAC prospects after Principi left the stage. "We all are familiar with the Surface Warfare Centers," he said. "But there are a lot of [supported commands] that add value."

Nette encouraged all members of the community to learn as much as possible about the various supported commands onboard NSASP installations.

Nette also discussed how the annual, Navy-wide Solid Curtain/ Citadel Shield training exercise March 19-23 may impact traffic in the vicinity of Dahlgren and Indian Head. "There will be reduced services on base," said Nette. "What it means for the community is traffic. It's our responsibility to reach out and work with departments of transportation on both sides of the river, schools, and [law enforcement] to help coordinate traffic."

Nette also announced that NSASP will continue its work constructing a living shoreline at NSF Indian Head; volunteers from the community will be invited to assist with the latest phase of the shoreline project this summer. Military Construction (MILCON) Project 222 to provide upgrades the Indian Head's Steam Distribution System was recently approved and funded, Nette told the council. The Navy may award a contract as early as this spring.

The base is also continuing to pursue an Enhanced Use Lease that would revitalize two underutilized areas of Indian Head. Constellation Energy is negotiating the details with the Navy.

NSWC Indian Head Division Facility Improvements

The second presentation at the COMREL updated the community on the status of major investments to the military value of NSF Indian Head's largest supported command, the Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Division. Amy O'Donnell, deputy technical director, began by briefing the COMREL about how much more there is to NSWC Indian Head Division than Indian Head. "We are five states and five sites deep," said O'Donnell. "People tend to forget that and when we address our military value, we're talking about [all sites]."

NSWC Indian Head Division maintains sites in Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky and New Jersey, with a few NSWC Indian Head Division employees working out in the Fleet. O'Donnell said the "heart" of her organization, however, was Charles County.

"Between 2009 and 2011, almost $75 million of [military construction projects] have been completed," said O'Donnell. "It's a huge investment and there are great new capabilities." The first phase of the new Advanced Energetics Research Laboratory is complete and employees have already moved in. The next phase of construction is due to commence in fiscal year 2015.

"A lot of infrastructure work has been completed, [and others] will be completed very soon," said O'Donnell. The completed projects include a new Consolidated Cartridge Actuated Device (CAD)/Propellant Actuated Device (PAD) Stock Point. The site services ejection seat devices for all four branches of the military and was commissioned on 2009.

The BRAC-mandated realignment of assets from Naval Weapons Station Yorktown to Indian Head is complete; 40 personnel moved to Indian Head situated in three new and five renovated buildings. The organization is also completing a large order for M72A7 Light Anti-Tank Weapon (LAW) warheads.

Projects are also pending that would build the long-anticipated Agile Chemical Facility and an energetics engineering campus.

"We do a lot of unique things that can't be done anywhere else," said O'Donnell. "There are materials that are critical to [national defense] that aren't made anywhere else. We have to have a national way to make those materials."