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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 16, 2003

Stryker preparation in House defense bill

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

The House Armed Services Committee has approved a $358 million military plan for Hawai'i that allows the Army to expand Schofield Barracks and paves the way at Hickam Air Force Base for the arrival of eight C-17 jet transports.

The construction and research money, which the committee incorporated into the fiscal 2004 national defense authorization bill on Wednesday, includes $19.4 million for the acquisition of land next to Schofield, $18 million for an information systems facility and $33 million for a "mission support" training facility.

On the Air Force side, $62.6 million is for C-17 maintenance facilities, squadron operations, a flight simulator, and other Hickam improvements.

Both projects relate to the anticipated creation of a Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Hawai'i, a fast-strike unit of wheeled armored vehicles the Army wants to bring here. C-17s are expected in 2005; Strykers could arrive in 2006.

Six of the brigades are planned, and the Pentagon approved financing for four, with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld initiating a review of the final two brigades proposed for Hawai'i and Pennsylvania to see if improvements can be made or they should be dropped.

C-17 cargo carriers at Hickam would be used to transport the 19-ton Strykers. Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai'i, has said, "If you didn't have (C-17s), you wouldn't have the (Stryker) brigade, and if you didn't have the (Stryker) brigade, the real use of C-17s would not be apparent."

Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, yesterday called the Pentagon examination "inside baseball," and said he remains confident Hawai'i will get a Stryker brigade.

"The argument really here is: What's going to constitute Bri-gades 5 and 6?" Abercrombie said. "I don't think the issue is whether or not there's going to be 5 and 6, and whether Hawai'i would be participating in it. It's what kind of brigades are we talking about."

An Army review of Strykers ordered by the Pentagon is due next month. It will determine whether they should be reconfigured or if helicopters and artillery should be added to bolster the units.

Abercrombie said that he expects incremental rather than wholesale changes, and that any move to cancel Hawai'i's brigade would face a fight in Congress.

In the meantime, the Army is continuing with its "transformation" plan in Hawai'i in preparation for a Stryker brigade, which includes $693 million in O'ahu and Big Island construction projects. A brigade would have more than 350 of the armored vehicles.

The draft of an environmental impact statement is due next month, followed by a 45-day review period.

The Army is proposing to buy 1,500 to 2,100 acres adjacent to Schofield Barracks for a small-arms firing range and motor pool related to the transformation effort. Army officials yesterday said terms are being negotiated for the Kunia land with the James Campbell Estate and its leaseholders.

A draft "finding of no significant impact" was released earlier this month for a "prescribed burn" on 1,200 to 1,500 acres of the Schofield Barracks West Range impact area. The Army said the clearing, scheduled over five to six days and beginning June 7, is necessary to remove vegetation to conduct a cleanup of unexploded ordnance, and do archaeological surveys for the Stryker Brigade Environmental Impact Study.

The plan approved by the Armed Services Committee also includes $46.58 million of Hawai'i-based research and development projects.