• 43°

Shoot down this bad plan

Something should be happening right now, as you read this newspaper, at Suffolk City Hall regarding Friday’s news that a defense department board of economic and business advisors plans to recommend closing down Joint Forces Command.

State and federal officials were quick to denounce the Defense Business Board’s reported plans Friday to recommend the closure as part of billions of dollars in cost-saving measures that Defense Secretary Robert Gates had charged it with finding. Even city officials — once they became aware of the stories on the issue that were pending or already in play in various Hampton Roads media outlets — sent out a press release saying they would be “closely monitoring” the process as it winds toward an official recommendation in October.

In a highly unusual show of solidarity, Virginia Congressmen J. Randy Forbes, Glenn Nye, Rob Wittman and Bobby Scott joined Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner in releasing a statement Friday afternoon stating the key strategic importance of JFCOM to American military effectiveness and readiness.

We hope our representatives in Washington, D.C., will follow through with the secretary of defense, with the chairmen of the Armed Services Committee in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and with anybody who will listen. The message is simple, and it led the group’s press release on Friday: “The ability of our Armed Forces to operate jointly is one of the key components that sets our military apart from others across the world.” As JFCOM leads in training and development of that concept, closing the command “would be a step backward and could be harmful to the capabilities of the finest military in the world.”

At a local level, the loss of JFCOM would be economically catastrophic. The command employs 2,200 people in Suffolk and more than 6,300 at its three Hampton Roads locations. With an operating budget of nearly $704 million, it provides contracts worth $534 million.

Without JFCOM, the Virginia Modeling and Simulation Center would struggle for a reason to exist. Without JFCOM, companies like Lockheed Martin and Cobham might wonder whether there’s any reason to stay in Suffolk. Without JFCOM, the economic revival that has been led by Harbour View and much of the rest of North Suffolk would likely die with a whimper, bringing down the rest of the city with it. Suffolk has been spared the worst effects of the recession largely because of JFCOM and the companies that have sprung up to support the command. A North Suffolk without JFCOM would be a quiet place with a lot of vacant warehouse buildings and empty three-story brick homes.

Keeping that image in mind, Suffolk officials should be working right now to coordinate with officials in other Hampton Roads cities, in Richmond and in Washington, D.C., to develop a strategy to undermine the DBB’s recommendation before it ever is made. The proposal cannot be allowed to get traction inside the Pentagon. The time to start fighting it is today.