Gates: Close Joint Forces Command in Norfolk
Defense Secretary Robert Gates (AP photo)
In a press conference, a tough-talking Gates proposed other cuts as part of a broader effort to rein in military spending. It includes a 10 percent reduction next year in the Pentagon's use of outside contractors and cutting the number of admirals and generals.
"I am determined to change the way this department has done business for a long time," he said.
JFCOM, located in Norfolk and Suffolk, was established to train troops from different services to work, communicate and fight together.
It is one of the Defense Department's 10 combatant commands. Its missions include experimentation, training and developing advanced warfighting concepts. Its 2010 operating budget is $704 million.
In addition to its headquarters in Norfolk, it operates the Joint Warfighting Center in northern Suffolk and has outposts in Newport News, Nevada and Florida. In 2007, it provided about 4,500 high-paying jobs and pumped about $365 million into the local economy according to Old Dominion University.
It is unclear just how many of those jobs would be lost or transferred out of the area. Gates said critical functions of JFCOM would be retained and reassigned elsewhere in the Defense Department.
When JFCOM was created, it meant an extra layer of bureaucracy, but Gates said that was understood at the time. The benefits of joint operations outweighed the costs.
"Since then, compelled by decades of operational experience, the U.S. military has largely embraced jointness as a matter of culture and practice," Gates said.
So while training joint forces and creating joint doctrine are still valuable efforts, "they do not necessarily require a separate four-star combatant command," he said.
As a nod to Virginia, Gates said the cuts could free up more funding for critical tasks like shipbuilding. Northrop Grumman Corp.'s Newport News shipyard is the state's largest private industrial employer with more than 20,000 workers.
"If, as a result of these efforts, I'm able to add $1 (billion) to $2 billion to a Navy shipbuilding program of record, Virginia may well come out with more jobs than it loses," Gates said.
Virginia's congressional delegation was not sold. The announcement brought a stinging rebuke from Republicans and Democrats in Hampton Roads who belong to committees on the budget and armed services.
Rep. Glenn Nye, D-Norfolk, called Gates' plan "short-sighted and without merit." Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, accused the Obama administration of "selling off" the U.S. military to pay for social programs.
Forbes also brought up something sure to be part of the debate: How the Defense Department can spend up to $1 billion to move an aircraft carrier from Norfolk to Mayport, Fla., by 2019, when it purports to be concerned about cost-cutting.
Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell immediately issued an executive order establishing a commission on military and national security facilities. It was partly prompted by the JFCOM issue, but also by discussions earlier this year with the congressional delegation.
"This is a very bad decision, not just for Virginia, but for the United States military," he said. "To take and dismantle Joint Forces Command and scatter it to the four winds is extremely short-sighted."
The command was headed by Marine Corps. Gen. James Mattis, but he was recently named to replace Gen. David Petraeus as head of Central Command.
The new commander is Army Gen. Ray Odierno, whose task will be to eliminate his own job.
"He supports the decision to eliminate JFCOM," Gates said. "I expect it will take about a year to carry out this change and I've told Ray that his assignment at JFCOM was same as it was in Iraq — to work himself out of a job, and then I'll find him a new and better job."
In a statement, JFCOM leaders pledged to work to accomplish Gates' directive.
"There will be much hard work and analysis in the time ahead and we will do the best we can to provide solid data on which to base decisions. We have been assured that our work force will receive the best professional career advice and placement assistance available."
Dr. Clifford Stanley, the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, was scheduled to visit JFCOM on Tuesday to talk with leaders about the way ahead.
Daily Press staff writers Peter Frost and Kimball Payne contributed to this story.