Saturday, December 06, 2008

Just How many US Military Bases

We know that the Pentagon’s Global Presence and Basing Strategy asked the total number of American military sites abroad to be reduced to 550 by 2012. That’s fine. This number is completely irrelevant simply because of the fact that today we don’t know how many military bases exist. DoD’s reference of Base Structure Report does not tell the truth.

According to the DoD Base Structure Report[1] the US Department of Defense remains one of the world’s largest “landlords” with a physical plant consisting of more than 545,714 facilities (buildings, structures and utilities) located on more than 5,429 sites on 29.8 million acres, valued at over $706 billion. (761 sites are located in 39 foreign countries, excluding Iraq, Afghanistan and many others).

This makes 120,596 km2, which is almost equivalent to half of the UK, or N. Korea, or Mississippi or New York.

In fact, the DoD is the world’s largest landlord, much ahead of the US General Services Administration and General Electric as claimed by some. For example the US military bases in many countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Hungary, Austria, Israel, Bulgaria, Qatar, etc. are not listed in Bases Structure Report.

The ones given in the Base Structure Report of the DoD list only military bases either owned or leased by the DoD. To be listed sites should meet a predetermined size and value criteria. To qualify for entry in the published report, a site located in the United States must be larger than 10 acres AND have a PRV (Total Plant Replacement Value) greater than $10 million. If the site is located in a foreign country, it must be larger than 10 acres OR have a PRV greater than $10 million to be shown as a separate entry. PRV for all facilities (buildings, structures, and utilities) is the cost to replace the current physical plant (facilities and supporting infrastructure) using today’s construction costs (labor and materials) and standards (methodologies and codes).

In June 2008, Brooking Institutions had published a report entitled
Unfinished Business: U.S. Overseas Military Presence in the 21st Century by Michael E. O'Hanlon. It contains some useful information but doesn’t answer the crucial question: How many US bases there are all around the world?

It says that “Today, the United States has at least some military forces in about 150 countries around the world.” This is nothing new.

The report outlines the three new definitions of military facilities.

Main Operating Bases: has permanently stationed U.S. combat forces, well developed base infrastructures including family support, and robust security protection.

Forward Operating Sites: Has a modest U.S. support presence. US military forces are deployed for purposes such as bilateral and regional training purposes.

Cooperative Security Locations: Has little or even no permanent U.S. presence. Relies on contractors or host-nation support for maintenance and routine operations.

But doesn’t give the number of facilities grouped according to that classification.

But it says that in Iraq “There are about a dozen very large bases, and a total of at least 45 major bases, according to an early 2007 counting by Stars and Stripes newspaper. Including forward operating bases and various combat outposts, the number of installations is well over 100. The larger bases include Camp Victory at the Baghdad Airport, where main U.S. military headquarters as well as two American divisions are located (as of 2007), Camp Anaconda/Balad Air Base north of Baghdad (home to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, the only Air Force wing in Iraq), and Camp Speicher near Tikrit.”

IT reports that DoD “has more than 1,000 armed personnel in about a dozen countries. Germany, Japan, and Kuwait are principally hubs or staging grounds for maintaining presence and conducting operations throughout a key region and beyond.
Critical countries in the American base network abroad also include Djibouti, Bahrain, Qatar, and Egypt, as well as the British territory of Diego Garcia.
Not only does the United States have a great deal of firepower stationed abroad, it has the infrastructure, the working relationships, and the transportation and logistics assets needed to reinforce its capacities quickly as needed in crises.
But stationing hundreds of thousands of troops abroad is not an automatic or inherent characteristic of major powers, especially in the modern post-imperial era. Apart from the United States, no other major power has more than 20,000 to 30,000 forces abroad (with Britain and France leading the way after the United States). Substantial powers such as Russia, China, and India deploy forces totaling only in the thousands normally, as do several countries that participate frequently in peacekeeping missions. »

Cool, but it is beyond my comprehension why the report does not say that many of the bases they talk about do not appears in the Pentagon’s official military base count. Something is wrong here.

But then the report touches to an excellent point :

“Long-range strike forces are most usefully defined as capabilities that can effectively fight from American bases, without having to first establish foreign beachheads. By that definition, long-range strike forces are primarily air and naval assets, though some special forces may fit the definition as well.”

Long-range strike assets like bombers, transport planes, tactical aircraft, and support aircraft for purposes such as intelligence, flying gas stations, aircraft carrier battle groups (each having 55 combat aircraft), and attack submarines don’t justify having that many bases around the globe. The report agrees with that. The DoD wants to have faster, stronger, more lethal war machines. That is why it spends billions of dollars for the procurement of new assets (even though much of it could be called gadgets).

To this we should add the followings from the Brookings report:

Prepositioned supplies include huge ships stocked with weaponry and ammunition as well as ground-based facilities storing weaponry and supplies. Among other things, the United States tries to keep the capacity to quickly fill out up to eight ground combat brigades with equipment stored overseas and ideally kept in good working order at all times. However, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have complicated the effort to keep such equipment stocks complete.

Strategic Lift
Another key aspect of global posture is strategic lift, including ships and airplanes…. Among its other capabilities, the United States has about three dozen amphibious ships capable of carrying more than two brigades of Marines and their equipment, roughly 360 large airplanes for carrying troops and equipment and another 200 quickly available via the civil reserve air fleet program, each typically able to carry 50 to 100 tons of cargo per flight, and about 20 large “roll-on roll-off ” ships each capable of carrying 15,000 to 20,000 tons of equipment (equipment and initial supplies for a heavy division weigh about 100,000 tons).”

The report makes some good points including

“It would not be prudent to start thinking about any long-term American military bases in Iraq at present. This is at best a very premature idea to consider. If it is ever seriously contemplated, the idea should originate from a future Iraqi government, not from Washington.
Possible missile defense sites in the Czech Republic
and Poland… are not inherently bad ideas. But they are not needed now. In addition, the way in which they have been proposed and pursued has also been too bilateral, failing to benefit from the legitimacy and support that a NATO-led decision could provide.

Pentagon plans appeared to envision stationing a brigade of forces at a time in Romania and/or Bulgaria starting in 2008; this seems an overly rushed schedule. Whether more soldiers are kept in Germany or stationed in the United States, they should not be deployed to eastern Europe in large numbers while the Iraq and Afghanistan wars continue to take soldiers away from their home bases and families so much already.:

The report some good remarks on AFRICOM, but argues that reducing the military presence in Germany is not that good.

At the end, my question still remains unanswered: Just how many US military bases exist worldwide?

[1] DOD (2008), Base Structure Report FY2008 Baseline, Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Installations & Environment, 2008. The report provides a listing of installations and sites owned or leased by the Department.


At 1:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some US bases are not named as such in some countries. In the UK, for example, US military bases are labeled as RAF bases. So, knowing the total number of US bases is impossible.


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