Pentagon defends base assessment

by Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Pentagon officials on Monday painted Cannon Air Force Base as one with little to offer in the way of nearby air and testing range space. They said Melrose Bombing Range is “rudimentary” and “basic.” The range, according to Pentagon testimony, holds little joint-use opportunities and could not accommodate live ordnance.

Defense Department statements came in response to questions from a Base Realignment and Closure Commission panel during a public hearing on Monday in Washington. BRAC officials asked about a scenario that would ultimately shift A-10 aircraft to Cannon.

BRAC Chairman Anthony Principi asked Pentagon officials in a recent letter whether they had considered relocating the Master Jet Base at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia to Moody Air Force Base in Georgia and moving planes assigned to Moody to Cannon.

New Mexico congressional delegates expressed “dismay with the Defense Department’s continued dismissal of assets at Cannon Air Force Base and any alternative that might ensure the survival of the base,” in a joint press release.

“We didn’t expect the Department of Defense to suddenly change their position,” said Jude McCartin, spokeswoman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D.-N.M.

The delegation, she said, places its stock in the BRAC Commission, not the Defense Department.

The BRAC Commission’s analysis of Cannon assets will determine the fate of the base. Five of the nine commissioners must vote in favor of retaining Cannon in order for the base to remain open.

“Today’s hearing offered no surprises,” Bingaman said in the joint press release. “But our goal has always been to take our case directly to the BRAC Commission, to persuade commissioners that Cannon is the valuable installation that we in New Mexico know it to be.”

New Mexico lawmakers were surprised when Air Force leadership cited the lack of “live ordnance” capabilities at the Melrose range. The Air Force’s Mission Compatibility Index previously ranked “live ordnance capability” low in analysis of range complex operating areas.

Cannon backers argue there are joint training possibilities for Cannon with Fort Bliss and Fort Hood, a pair of Texas Army bases, 220 and 340 nautical miles from Cannon, respectively.

Chad Lydick, a Clovis businessman and member of a civilian group that supports Cannon, pointed to a Roving Sands mission held in March at Cannon as evidence of Cannon joint training capacity.

The fight to keep the base continues, despite negative Pentagon testimony, according to a spokesman for Sen. Pete Domenici, R.-N.M.

“There is still a lot of work going on behind the scenes to make a case for Cannon,” Chris Gallegos said.