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Cuts may target USJFCOM

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ goal of cutting billions in defense spending during the next five years could come at the expense of Hampton Roads — and Suffolk might not be spared the pain.

On Friday, area leaders learned the Defense Business Board (DBB), an independent board of economic and business advisers to the Pentagon, is expected to outline suggested savings that would include the elimination of Joint Forces Command.

Eliminating the command, the DBB is expected to report, would not only save hundreds of millions of dollars each year in spending, but also would create a more efficient military.

Not surprising, the board’s expected conclusions, first reported on Thursday in “The Hill,” a newspaper serving Capitol Hill and government in Washington, D.C., drew quick reaction from members of Virginia’s congressional delegation.

“There may be merit in tightening the structure of various commands within the individual services that interact with the Joint Forces Command, but it is illogical for an independent Pentagon advisory board to recommend that we undo what our nation has worked so hard to achieve in military jointness over the past two decades,” the delegation, which includes U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-04th) wrote in a Friday afternoon press release.

“It goes without saying that we should achieve efficiency in our nation’s defense budget, however doing it at the expense of the command that is leading the charge for the future of our military training efforts would be a step backward and could be harmful to the capabilities of the finest military in the world.”

In addition to the 2,200 jobs and trickle-down economic impact the Suffolk-based units with Joint Forces Command bring to Suffolk, the military agency also stands as the single largest corporate tenant in the city, holding down more than 642,000 square feet of office space in North Suffolk at an annual cost of $16 million.

“We echo the sentiments expressed today by our Congressional leaders that USJFCOM plays a critical role in our nation’s defense and homeland security efforts,” the city stated in a press release Friday afternoon.

“The City of Suffolk is proud and honored to have a significant component of this command within our community. The contributions that USJFCOM and the Modeling, Simulation and Analysis industry have made in Suffolk and the region are important to our economy and have numerous positive impacts throughout the Commonwealth and our nation.”

In addition to city and federal leaders, Gov. Bob McDonnell weighed in on the proposed closings during a trip to Frankfurt, Germany.

“I am very concerned over recent reports that the Defense Business Board, which advises the Secretary of Defense, may soon recommend the closing of the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk. The Joint Forces Command plays a pivotal role in our national defense and its closure would not be in the best interests of our nation,” he said.

“Our administration is working with Virginia’s congressional delegation to ensure that this important military asset remains open and headquartered in Norfolk.”

Media representatives with USFCOM declined to share any reactions.

“It would be inappropriate for us to comment on recommendations to the Secretary of Defense,” said Kathleen Jabs, USJFCOM chief of media operations. “U.S. Joint Forces Command is focused on providing support to the warfighter in both current and future operations.”

Combining all of USJFCOM’s facilities — including both those in Suffolk and Norfolk — the command has an operating budget of $703.9 million and a combined staff of more than 6,300 personnel. The command’s personnel figure includes military, civilian and contractor staffs.