Auditors question US military plans in East Asia

Multibillion dollar plans to restructure U.S. military forces in East Asia lack crucial cost information and analysis of alternatives, congressional auditors say, raising new doubts over their affordability.

Three influential senators said Thursday the study by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office lends weight to their call for the Defense Department to review its plans to realign forces in Japan, South Korea and Guam.

The study estimates more than $27 billion is required to realign military bases on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa and the Pacific territory of Guam, which is considerably higher than initial projections. It also concludes that an initiative to extend the tour length of military personnel in South Korea while authorizing family members to accompany them could cost $5 billion by 2020.

"Certain projects in Korea, Japan and Guam have gotten to the point that it is clearly in the best interests of our countries, and in the best interests of sustaining and furthering our strong alliances, to re-examine these plans and adjust them to fiscal, political and strategic realities," said Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Democratic senator made the comment in a joint statement with Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the committee's ranking Republican, and Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia.

Earlier this month, the three lawmakers warned that current realignment plans for East Asia were "unrealistic, unworkable and unaffordable." They offered alternatives they say would save billions but still keep U.S. military forces in the region.

The accountability office's report, published Wednesday, describes the Defense Department's plans as the largest transformation of military posture in the Pacific region since the end of World War II. It says the plans will affect tens of thousands of military personnel and their families and require the construction of hundreds of new facilities and more than 3,500 housing units.

The most contentious plan is aimed at reducing the footprint of U.S. forces in Okinawa, where many islanders oppose the military's presence. Japan's previous prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, was forced to resign last year after failing to get Marines off the island altogether.

Both the Defense Department and Japan's government have reaffirmed the plan, due for completion by 2014, but expectation is growing they at least will have to push back the date.