WASHINGTON (WAVY) - Virginia Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner made the case for moving the headquarters of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) to Hampton Roads in a letter Wednesday to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen.
"Relocating the command's headquarters to Hampton Roads would lessen the concerns often expressed by multiple stakeholders surrounding the command's current mission and activities in Africa, enable significant cost savings in future years, and generate numerous synergies given the presence of other major military commands in the local area and 'plug-and-play' infrastructure already in place," wrote the senators.
Currently AFRICOM is temporarily based at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany.
The idea of moving AFRICOM's headquarters to Hampton Roads was discussed in a November meeting between Virginia lawmakers and Secretary Gates in connection with the Defense Department's desire to close the Norfolk-based Joint Forces Command as part of a cost-saving initiative.
The Department of Defense agreed to include Virginia in the assessment of alternate locations for the AFRICOM headquarters.
The proposal to bring AFRICOM to Hampton Roads was also made by Sen. Webb at a recent Senate Committee on Armed Services hearing.
AFRICOM was established in October 2007 and operated under U.S. European Command during its first year. It became an independent command on October 1, 2008.
The full text of the Senators' letter is below:
Dear Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen:
We are writing to address the commitment that was expressed during our meeting of November 23, 2010, to include Virginia in the assessment of alternate locations for the permanent headquarters of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). In our view, relocating the command's headquarters to Hampton Roads would lessen the concerns often expressed by multiple stakeholders surrounding the command's current mission and activities in Africa, enable significant cost savings in future years, and generate numerous synergies given the presence of other major military commands in the local area and "plug-and-play" infrastructure already in place.
The headquarters for the U.S. Central Command, the U.S. Pacific Command, and the U.S. Southern Command have been located in the United States for decades. The same model is even more appropriate for the U.S. Africa Command given the sensitivities many African nations continue to manifest over the command's mission and military presence on the continent.
Additionally, the Hampton Roads region warrants special consideration when evaluating possible locations for the command in the United States. The adverse economic impacts associated with the proposed disestablishment of the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) are extraordinary for a decision made outside of a formal military base closure process. They should be weighed during the Department of Defense's (DOD) assessment of the costs and benefits of potential alternative locations to host AFRICOM.
A good economic case can also be made to reduce AFRICOM's footprint in Europe. In the long term, the relocation to Hampton Roads of the nearly 1,500 military and civilian personnel now assigned at AFRICOM's headquarters in Germany could save billions of dollars. As the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted in its 2009 report (GAO-09-181), "In addition to renovation costs [of its interim headquarters in Germany], cost projections exceed $4 billion through 2015 to operate AFRICOM's interim headquarters, expand DOD's presence in 11 U.S. embassies in Africa, and improve existing facilities for a combined joint task force in Djibouti."
Moreover, as the GAO reported, these projections do not include the costs to establish the command's permanent headquarters or other supporting offices in Africa, a potential joint operations fusion center to support the headquarters, or costs associated with its new component and theater special operations commands. These cost estimates also do not capture the higher permanent-change-of-station (PCS) personnel costs associated with such overseas assignments.
We are confident that Hampton Roads will prove to be appealing as a cost-avoidance alternative. As you know, Norfolk and its adjoining communities already have first-class facilities to accommodate AFRICOM's mission. DOD should consider, for example, the $373 million in recent taxpayer investments in the Hampton Roads region, originally intended for JFCOM, as a down payment on AFRICOM. At JFCOM's Suffolk installation, the department has already invested $270 million in its buildings and communications systems. In addition, the site's non-cancelable lease obligations between fiscal years 2011 and 2017 total more than $61 million.
Hampton Roads represents one of the largest concentrations of joint and service-unique military commands in the United States. It offers joint installations, command-and-control resources, and training and education
facilities that could support AFRICOM's mission superbly. As a relatively new combatant command, AFRICOM will benefit from an unmatched pool of joint manpower from surrounding Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force facilities. Active-duty personnel and military veterans also provide a highly skilled workforce with the necessary technical qualifications, security clearances, and knowledge of military operations.
Nearby joint and allied organizations and educational facilities, including the Joint Armed Forces Staff College and NATO Allied Command-Transformation (NATO AC-T), will serve as much needed force multipliers for doctrinal and strategic growth. These commands could also enable a healthy dialogue between AFRICOM and our NATO allies who are already engaged in stabilization efforts in Africa, particularly the Horn of Africa. Many African nations, including Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, are members of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue and are comfortable working with NATO and AC-T.
The Tidewater area also has a well-deserved reputation for being home to a wide range of high-technology resources. They include federal and private research facilities and laboratories, modeling-and-simulating centers, a large base of information-technology defense contractors, and universities and colleges recognized for their achievement in many disciplines. With a Hampton Roads location, AFRICOM would be able to draw on the rich talent and professional expertise available on its doorstep.
In short, we believe that Hampton Roads is a first-rate candidate to host the headquarters for the U.S. Africa Command.
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