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Speed Up Base Closures, Experts Urge Defense Panel Also Suggests More Sharing Of Military Bases

An independent panel of military experts is recommending the Defense Department speed up its embattled plan to close more military bases and suggests the armed services share some posts as a way of economizing.

The recommendations, part of a broad report to be released today, give much-needed support to Defense Secretary William Cohen’s attempts to obtain congressional approval to remodel the U.S. military into a leaner, more high-tech defense and fighting machine for the 21st century.

The National Defense Panel of experts was chartered by Congress in 1996 to provide an independent road map to America’s future military.

An official familiar with the panel’s report said Friday it will not recommend any specific troop reductions. But it will endorse Cohen’s proposal made earlier this month - and rejected by a Congress fearing voter backlash - to hold two more rounds of military base closings, the official said.

The report also will urge that Congress authorize the two rounds sooner than in 2001 and 2005, as proposed by Cohen, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A few bases already are shared by different branches of the armed services, and the report suggests expanding base-sharing.

The defense panel maintains that financial benefits projected by the Pentagon won’t be realized unless base closures are made more quickly. Cohen is counting on savings from shuttering unneeded military installations to pay for weapons modernization, which has been put off for several years amid budget cutbacks.

The last round of base closing decisions was approved by Congress in 1995. Since the late 1980s, nearly 100 major bases have been closed nationwide.