NAS Brunswick Supporters Fight to Stop Base Closure as US Navy P-3 Fleet Drops from Overwork

P-8A replacemnt for P-3 not due until 2012; numbers far smaller

The Navy has made it clear in a letter to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins that it does not want to see the Brunswick Naval Air Station closed and envisions a continued role in NATO exercises, refueling aircraft and hosting a Navy survival school.

The Brunswick base has "enormous strategic value as the last remaining active duty airfield in the Northeast," wrote Ann Rathmell Davis, an assistant to the Navy secretary on base realignment and closure issues, in a letter Tuesday.

In fact, the Navy continues to view Brunswick as "the optimal site in New England for P-3 detachment missions," she wrote.

Collins, R-Maine, said the letter will be used as Brunswick supporters press their case for keeping the base at full strength during a public hearing of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission on Aug. 10 in Washington, D.C.

"It is the strongest statement that I have seen from the Navy about the value of the Brunswick Naval Air Station," she said Wednesday. "Itís ironic because it makes the case for having Brunswick as a fully operational base."

The Pentagon originally proposed moving P-3 Orion patrol aircraft to Jacksonville, Fla., and reassigning 2,300 military personnel. But the base closing commission voted 8-1 to add Brunswick to the list of those being considered for closure.

Base supporters have contended that the baseís strategic value makes it too important to close. And they say it doesnít make sense to scale it back, either, because doing so would eliminate any possibility that it could be redeveloped.

In her letter, Davis acknowledged that scaling back Brunswick would lengthen the response time to maritime threats in the Northeast.

The Navy supports keeping Brunswick Naval Air Station open in a limited role because it would support future requirements for homeland defense, as well as providing "surge capacity" for the Navy, she wrote.

The base has a fully functional weapons facility, an ability to service all aircraft in the Defense Department arsenal and a geographic location that allows maritime patrol aircraft to avoid passing over inhabited areas, she wrote.

In addition, the Pentagon envisions Navy and Marine Reserve units to continue to operate in Brunswick and for the Brunswick to continue to serve as home to the Navyís Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School in western Maine.

(Source: P-3 Research Group)

Meanwhile, the USN P-3 Fleet is in ever rougher shape. There are currently 172 P-3Cs "assigned" to the Navy, down from 288 just two years ago because of the aircraft just being worn out. The P-3 was designed with a 30 years service life/20,000 flight hours. Many are now pushing 35 years and 30,000 flight hours. Corrosion from salt air at low level flight over the ocean and endless sorties in support of the War on Terrorism have taken their toll. As of August, 2005, 66 P-3Cs were at repair depots and in-work for inspection/repair/avionics upgrades and sixteen had been grounded for maintenance deficiencies, leaving only 90 mission ready for the fleet's 20 patrol squadrons. Full squadron strength is eight aircraft each, plus enough for VP-30, the Fleet Replacement Squadron.

The P-8A Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) due to replace the P-3C beginning in 2012 was originally to number approximately 150 airplanes, plus about 50 unmanned aerial vehicles for the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Program (BAMS). Under BAMS, the UAVs would be controlled both from the ground and from airborne P-8s as a way to greatly expand search areas at sea. However, it is this writer's opinion that at most, 50 P-8s will be built (eight each for the four remaining VP squadrons), plus another 18 for VP-30. I also believe BAMS is dead in the water because of the same defense money shortfalls resulting from the ongoing War on Terrorism, which will result in a limited number of a more generic UAV being available to Navy patrol aviation on an as-available basis (the Navy is serious about carrier launched UAVs and is developing them along the X-45/X-47 line).

One cannot repeat enough the ever greater vulnerability of the US Navy to the fourth generation, air independent propulsion-equipped diesel-electric subs (SSKs) now being produced and sold in quantities to third world navies. In recent years, several SSKs from allied nations have, in exercises, "sunk" both US aircraft carriers and US nuclear attack subs. With US Navy Patrol Aviation relegated to a second bench status, and with carrier-based ASW via the S-3B now retired, the nation has some tough choices to make.

The closing of NAS Brunswick would end Navy/Marine Corps aviation presence in New England