Colorado Springs bases would see little immediate impact from Pentagon plan released Thursday to cut $78 billion in defense spending over five years, but could see troop cuts in the future.
In the short term, the proposal issued by Defense Secretary Robert Gates would have no impact, leaving local bases and programs intact. After 2015, bases here could see cuts in the number of troops they house under planned post-war downsizing.
“At the outset, I want to emphasize that while America is at war and confronts a range of future security threats, it is important to not repeat the mistakes of the past by making drastic and ill-conceived cuts to the overall defense budget,” Gates said in a speech. “At the same time, it is imperative for this department to eliminate wasteful, excessive and unneeded spending.”
The Gates proposal will first be considered by the Republican controlled House of Representatives, where one local member immediately slammed the cutting plan.
“We’re going to go around and around on this,” said Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, which controls the defense budget. “This would decimate national security.”
Democrats in the Senate, while wary of cuts, are more receptive to the Gates plan.
“Our government needs to find ways to work more efficiently and the Pentagon isn’t exempt,” said Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who serves on the Senate’s armed services panel.
Any local defense spending cuts would be deeply felt in Colorado Springs, where a steady inflow of Defense Department cash has somewhat blunted the effects of the recession.
Economists estimate that defense spending makes up about 40 percent of the local economy, including payroll for more than 40,000 active-duty soldiers and airmen in Colorado Springs.
While impacts from the proposal now appear minimal, local officials are wary of deeper cuts that could follow the American withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, said Brian Binn, president of military affairs with the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.
“We can expect to see budgets strained within the Department of Defense and that could have impacts here,” Binn said.
If the Defense Department makes deep payroll cuts, the biggest impact would be at Fort Carson, which has grown from 14,000 soldiers to more than 25,000 since 2003.
Army troop cuts after 2015 would shrink the service from 570,000 soldiers to 520,000.
That cut may seem steep, but it would leave the Army with 40,000 more soldiers than it had in the ranks before the 2003 Iraq invasion.
It’s unclear how the shrinking Army rolls would play out here.
In one scenario, Fort Carson, which is trying to land a 3,500-soldier combat aviation unit, could emerge from the cuts with more troops than are stationed there today.
Other programs could be in the crosshairs for future cuts, including satellite programs that fall under Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base.
Another long-rumored possible target for cuts is the Army’s missile defense program that’s headquartered in Colorado Springs.
Binn said those programs appear to be safe under the Gates proposal.
Any cuts to satellite or missile-defense programs would bring a double-whammy to the local economy because in addition to the possibility of losing uniformed troops, the region could see layoffs for highly-paid defense contractors.