Examining BRAC Closures

Date: June 20, 2005
Location: Washington, DC

EXAMINING BRAC CLOSURES -- (House of Representatives - June 20, 2005)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from New Mexico (Mr. Pearce) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. PEARCE. Mr. Speaker, I would like to address the subject of the Base Realignment and Closure process that is currently ongoing. I speak as a former Air Force pilot and a member of Congress from New Mexico. Although the base that I would like to talk about does not lie in my district, I think the overall concern that I have is that the process of establishing military value has somehow been deeply flawed, at least with respect to this one base. I would like to mention a couple of things about it.

According to the criteria set up by the BRAC Commission, encroachment was supposed to be one of the important issues that was discussed. In other words, if a town grows around a military base, it somehow loses its value because there are certain processes that are not as capable of being performed. So encroachment, that is the growing of the population around the base, is an extremely important measurement as we determine military value.

But as we look at the population, the population is listed on this chart in red. In the white areas are low population density areas. Cannon Air Force base is right here about 4 or 5 miles from the Texas border on the east side of New Mexico. As you can see, there are almost no population centers anywhere around. What this means is that Air Force fighters can take off from Cannon Air Force base without flying over densely populated areas. They can carry live munitions, live bombs, and live armament over this sparsely populated area without much risk.

Now this last week we saw the Harrier jet that actually had problems and fell into a housing area with those munitions on board, and that is the problem with encroachment. And yet when the BRAC Commission says that we should not have encroachment and that will be a high priority, we see that no encroachment has occurred here. And as we look across the rest of the country, we see deep encroachment occurring; and so one criteria appears to be completely ignored with respect to Cannon Air Force base in the eastern side of New Mexico.

Another one of the criteria that was mentioned is training space unencumbered by the overflight of airlines and commercial traffic. Now, again, if people are not aware of the White Sands Missile Range that lies in the second district of New Mexico which I do respect, that is a completely restricted air space. No airliner ever flies through that air space. And so starting back across Dallas, one can see from this chart that almost no white exists, white would be the commercial air traffic. But those flights begin to divert north toward Albuquerque, or they divert south to El Paso and fly completely around New Mexico.

Now, Cannon Air Force Base again lies about the midpoint in New Mexico along the New Mexico-Texas border, and it benefits because those airliners have already begun to divert far before they hit the New Mexico border, and so the air space that is available for training lies in this particular area. And, again, one of the extreme criteria of the BRAC Commission appears to have been either ignored or just disregarded.

The problem of training space becomes even more important when it is considered with population density. Many times aircraft that take off from densely populated areas have to fly to areas of sparse population, and each flight in a military aircraft can run tens of thousands of dollars. It might be as much as $50,000 an hour to operate. So each hour to convey the aircraft simply to the training zone is extremely expensive both in dollars and also in the use of the hours on the military aircraft, each aircraft having a certain limited life in terms of flight hours. So, again, one of the criteria seems to be omitted.

Another criterion that was judged to be important in evaluating which bases to keep open or closed were weather on the training days. Again, green indicates the days of cloudy weather. The white areas are generally clear skies. I can tell you, having flown in New Mexico most of my life, approximately 320 days a year are available for flight training in New Mexico, and it is significantly less. The next chart I show is simply a followup on that, and it shows precipitation. Again, one can see that the area around Cannon Air Force Base simply does not have the problem of precipitation.

Again, precipitation is two problems. It is a problem of flying in bad and inclement weather, and it is also the problem of corrosion, and we do not have the problem on or in New Mexico. Again, it is a very significant thing.

The final chart, Mr. Speaker, wraps it all up. New Mexico has the best, most accessible training space, the least encroachment, and the least overflight of commercial traffic. We are not able to understand exactly how the BRAC Commission came up with its report. And we would urge the House to take a stand to see that military value is considered as we approach the approval of the BRAC process.