Pentagon to close 15 European bases

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The Pentagon said Thursday it will close 15 bases in Europe to save an expected $500 million a year by the early 2020s after a two-year review of infrastructure requirements on the continent.

The European Infrastructure Consolidation process will better position the 67,000 U.S. troops in Europe to meet challenges that have emerged in the year since Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and menaced NATO allies in Eastern Europe, said Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

“The savings that we will be gaining in this process will allow us to maintain a strong force structure into the future,” he said.

Defense officials also hope the consolidation will ease concerns in Congress, which has rejected the Pentagon’s efforts to close more U.S. bases, partly because some lawmakers believe the U.S. infrastructure in Europe is too large.

“This was in part a response to that,” John Conger, acting assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment, said of the consolidation review.

The biggest change comes in Britain, where the U.S. will return the Mildenhall airbase to the Royal Air Force, but also add two squadrons of F-35 fighters at another base, RAF Lakenheath, by 2020 — the first such basing of the new stealth jet in Europe. That will result in a net reduction of 2,000 U.S. military and civilian personnel stationed in Britain.

The decision to base F-35s in Britain is expected to boost cooperation with the RAF, which also plans to field the fighters, Chollet said.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon will build new infrastructure, mostly in central and eastern Europe, to accommodate new deployments in response to Russian moves. Those improvements will be funded by a separate $985 million account approved last year by Congress, Chollet said.

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