SINCE 1988, there have been five Base Closure and Realignment Commissions (BRAC) that have led to 121 military base closures and 84 major base realignments.
Oklahoma has fared well throughout those five reviews. It’s the only state yet to lose a military installation, and our existing bases have benefited from past consolidation efforts. In the 2005 BRAC process, Oklahoma installations experienced a net job increase of 5,345.
But, as with the stock market, past performance is no guarantee of future success. At some point, another BRAC process is expected. Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, through the E Foundation for Oklahoma, wants to ensure state and local policies allow Oklahoma to move from a position of defense to offense in the next round of BRAC, regardless of when it may occur.
Officials generally expect Tinker Air Force Base and Fort Sill to survive another BRAC, but the prognosis is less certain for Vance Air Force Base, Altus AFB and the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.
At a recent meeting, officials from all five installations met with Lamb and foundation officials to discuss issues state or local government policies could address. The goal was not only to ensure Oklahoma’s bases don’t become targets for closure, but that they become targets for expansion in future BRACs.
A range of issues was discussed, but some jump out more than others. To cite one example, the proliferation of wind farms in Oklahoma may become a problem for the state’s Air Force bases.
The December 2012 Air Force Law Review noted one case involving Travis AFB in California where radar began indicating “persistent but non-existent weather cells” and aircraft tracked by controllers disappeared and reappeared on screens. A farm of more than 700 wind turbines was ultimately determined to be the cause.
The Federal Aviation Administration has determined wind farms can impact not only air traffic control, but also weapons testing and training. Thus, state regulations regarding the siting of wind farms could have an indirect, but significant impact on future evaluations of Oklahoma bases.
Infrastructure issues also need to be addressed. In McAlester, there is only one major access point. Construction of a second access point is one possible way for the state to improve McAlester’s standing in a review process. Similarly, addressing water infrastructure and power reliability issues near Altus would benefit that base’s chances.
Improving K-12 education, while not directly a military issue, would also make Oklahoma bases more attractive places for expansion.
One issue touched upon repeatedly was the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission. That commission, created to help address issues such as those noted above, appears to be falling short in its mission. For one thing, the $1.5 million in state funding provided to the commission doesn’t go far, particularly if commission officials try to spread resources among all bases. Consequently, state officials may be spending taxpayer funds to little effect.
Lamb and officials with the E Foundation deserve credit for taking a proactive approach. If Oklahoma officials wait until another BRAC process is underway before beginning to assess and address areas of weakness, they may find it’s too little, too late.