WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told an independent base closure commission Wednesday that a wind tunnel at the White Oak naval center should be preserved because of its “unique national capability.”
But Gen. John Shalikashvili said he has “no military objections” to closing the rest of the Naval Surface Warfare Center.
The center in eastern Montgomery County was one of two major military bases in Maryland recommended for closure Tuesday by the Department of Defense. If the warfare center is closed, 201 civilian employees would be out of jobs and one military worker could be transferred, said Susan Hansen, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
Shalikashvili told the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission’s chairman, former Illinois Sen. Alan Dixon, that the wind tunnel – which employs 70 civilians – is important to a number of federal agencies, including NASA.
Dixon, whose commission will report to the president on the DoD recommendations, did not respond to Shalikashvili’s comments during his opening statement.
The wind tunnel – often referred to as Tunnel 9 – is used to simulate the effects of flight to help in the development of DoD weapons systems, said Bob Voisinet, head of its aerodynamics branch.
No other wind tunnel in the nation has its ability to operate at speeds 16 times the speed of sound, he said.
It is now being used in developing the “next generation” of Patriot missiles, Voisinet said. He said the missiles were used extensively in the Persian Gulf War.
Tunnel 9 is also being used in conjunction with NASA to develop a space shuttle that would take off into orbit like an airplane instead of using rocket boosters, Voisinet said.
He said the civilian-run facility could be isolated from White Oak naval operations, but it depends heavily on a Navy presence, especially for security.
“It is a national asset,” Voisinet said, adding that it would cost nearly $143 million to replicate it.
The wind tunnel began operation in 1976.
Besides the Navy facility at White Oak, DoD Tuesday recommended only one other major base in Maryland to be closed: Fort Ritchie in Washington County. About 2,300 are now employed at the base – 1,011 of them military, Hansen said.
Smaller facilities in Maryland are also being recommended for closure or realignment, DoD officials said.
For instance, the Pentagon is proposing closing two other naval facilities in Maryland: The Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, which would lose 91 military and 55 civilian jobs, and the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Annapolis, which would lose two military and 520 civilian jobs.
Among the smaller Army facilities, the Pentagon recommended that the Kimbrough Army Community Hospital at Fort Meade be scaled down to a clinic, losing 55 military and 74 civilian jobs.
It recommended moving the Army Publications Distribution Center in Baltimore to St. Louis, Mo. Two military and 129 civilian jobs would be lost.
According to DoD, if all of its closure and realignment recommendations for Maryland are agreed to, the state could lose 3,474 jobs.
The Base Closure and Realignment Commission will review the recommendations and submit its plan to President Clinton by July 1. The president has until July 15 to forward the commission’s plan to Congress, or to return it to the commission with his disapproval. If forwarded to Congress, it would have 45 days to disapprove it. If Congress takes no action, the plan becomes law.
Secretary of Defense William Perry said the recommendations – part of a national plan to close 57 bases – were necessary to meet budget demands. He said the recommendations would save taxpayers $18 billion over the next two decades. Perry said he would like to see another round of base closings in three or four years. -30-