Troops are amassed in N.H. to fight feared shipyard, Hanscom cuts

While looming major cuts to defense spending have New Hampshire lawmakers scrambling to protect the future of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, it’s not just the fate of that base that has them worried.There’s also the concern of how cuts to military bases in nearby states could harm the New Hampshire firms that do business with them.Specifically, major proposed reductions in procurement practices at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Mass., could wage a huge blow on the small New Hampshire companies that subcontract services at the base, said U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.Hanscom is home to the Electronic Systems Center, which acquires electronic command and control systems for the Air Force, such as the E-3 Sentry, an airborne warning and control system developed by Boeing. The ESC is currently responsible for 200 projects and a $5 billion budget.As its own website states, “ESC doesn’t design or manufacture equipment; civilian contractors do that.” ESC, rather, is the manager – “it determines the operational user’s needs, defines systems to best meet those needs, asks for proposals from industry, selects contractors and monitors their progress.”As the Air Force begins restructuring efforts to make significant spending cuts, it has proposed some major changes to Hanscom. Effective Oct. 1, the ESC will be merged into Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Also by that date, the base — which is now headed by a three-star general — will be headed by a two-star officer, who will report to a higher chain of command in Ohio.But most concerning to defense firms in New Hampshire are the planned changes to procurement practices at the ESC, which include major reductions to its funding for contract services.Over the next four years, the base’s funding for contract workers will reportedly be reduced by three-quarters, which would eliminate a majority of the 1,250 contractors that serve the base.This has some high-tech defense firms in the Granite State worried. Several of them have contacted Ayotte to express concern for their futures with the nature and scope of cuts proposed at Hanscom, the senator said in a release.In a letter that she co-wrote with U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., Ayotte appealed to the Air Force to “monitor the reductions” at the ESC “to ensure they are implemented in a manner that does not unfairly target small businesses.”The senators added: “Small businesses in New Hampshire and across the country support our military with responsive, cost-competitive service. We can’t afford to lose these smaller firms.”New BRAC roundsAlong with the planned cuts at Hanscom, lawmakers across New England are joining forces to gear up for a fight to protect the region’s defense assets as the Defense Department works to reduce its spending by $487 billion over the next decade.As part of that belt-tightening effort, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has asked Congress to authorize two additional Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, rounds — one in 2013 and one in 2015.The last Base Realignment and Closure round in 2005 only narrowly spared the Portsmouth shipyard, which was included on the Defense Department’s list of bases to close, but was saved at the 11th hour when the BRAC Commission voted to remove it from the list.That close call has Ayotte and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., already out swinging against the proposed new BRAC rounds.Both New Hampshire senators, along with Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, released a joint statement opposing the request.”Another proposed round of BRAC closures now doesn’t make sense for our national defense or our national finances,” they wrote in the statement, which pointed to a Government Accountability Office report that found the 2005 BRAC round cost nearly $35 billion to implement.Another group working against the potential changes is the Defense Technology Initiative, formed in 2003 by the Massachusetts High Tech Council to bolster New England’s defense industry and help protect the region from future economic threats. Its efforts include introducing the Innovation Access Network, an online network that connects small technology firms with prime contractors, government agencies, research laboratories, and universities.While based in Massachusetts, DTI has members from across New England who are stressing the message in the face of a looming BRAC round that New England’s innovation and knowledge economy are powerful defense assets that can’t be replicated elsewhere.In the release, Ayotte acknowledged the fiscal challenges facing the nation. But she also expressed concern with how deep cuts could affect the country’s military readiness.”As our nation faces a serious fiscal crisis, we need to find savings throughout government — including at the Pentagon. But reductions need to be made responsibly and with an eye on the nation’s long-term defense needs.”