Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced a series of budget cuts totaling $487 billion over the next decade. At this point it is unclear how the cuts might affect Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Dayton-area, but past cuts and base realignments indicate that the local economy might benefit.
Overall, the Pentagon plans to cut 100,000 troops, retire ships, and close bases. Pay raises will also be limited starting in 2015 and retirees will see higher health care fees.
The Army will lose 80,000 soldiers, dropping the force to 490,000 while the Marine Corps will cut 20,000, decreasing the size of the corps to 182,000. Both branches will be staffed at pre-9/11 levels. The Navy will lose 7 cruisers and delay the development of a new nuclear-armed submarine. Special Operations will actually see a boost in its funding.
Meanwhile, the Air Force will close bases to consolidate operations and cut up to 10,000 airmen over the next few years. The service will also buy fewer jets, including the new F-35 fighter jet, and retire 92 cargo planes and jets.
Critics claim the cuts will “make it difficult to maintain our commitment to both our national security and that of our allies around the globe.” Rep. Mike Turner said, “While the drawdown of two wars is underway, we have a military in dire need of investment, not cuts.” He continued, “Currently, the Air Force is relying on bombers averaging 34 years in age and is refueling aircraft with tankers that are nearly 50 years old.”
Sen. John McCain said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s plan “ignores the lessons of history” and makes the military “too small to respond effectively to events that may unfold over the next few years.”
General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “Capability is more important than size.” Panetta claims the realignment is forward-looking and will help the United States adapt to developing threats now that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are drawing to a close.
Wright-Patt has done well through defense cuts and base realignments. Rep. Mike Turner said the base “has been a strong winner” in the past, although the base currently has 500 fewer aircraft than it had in 2005 after the last base realignment.
With an emphasis toward consolidating operations, the versatile Wright-Patt might see minimal cuts and may even see added responsibilities. According to Loren Thompson of the Washington D.C.-based Lexington Institute, “Wright-Patterson is one of a handful of Air Force bases that are considered absolutely essential to the management of the service.”
Wright-Patt is currently home to the Air Force’s Material Command as well as the Air Force Research Laboratory. Neither is likely to see significant cuts.
The base currently employs 9,500 troops and 27,000 overall, comprising of 8% of total employment in the Dayton metro area. With the local economy in gradual decline, Wright-Patt is crucial to the region.
Dayton ’s unemployment rate has declined from 10.1% in July 2011 to just over 8%; however, the drop was due more to a shrinking labor force. In July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics listed Dayton ’s labor force at 416,000. That figure dropped to 403,000 in November. Over the same time period, the total number of people employed fell from 375,000 to 369,000.