BRUNSWICK (AP) – A $31.4 million hangar being built at the Brunswick Naval Air Station could help preserve the base during the next round of base-closing deliberations in 2005, defense analysts say.

Construction is now getting under way and should be completed next year, said John W. James IV, the station’s director of public affairs. The hangar will house six P-3 Orions, replacing two World War II-era hangars.

Whether the new hangar’s construction will be used to help showcase the air station’s role in the nation’s defense “is a congressional matter” and not one Navy officials can speculate on, James said.

Congressional officials also are reluctant to predict whether the air station’s modernization efforts can help save the yard from future cost-saving plans.

But defense analysts suggest that an expensive new hangar may prove helpful.

“You’re going to be competing with other naval air stations, and if you have the most up-to-date facility and infrastructure, you’re in a better position,” said Christopher Hellman, senior analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Defense Information. “So all bases are looking to upgrade.”

With the U.S. Senate having voted in 2001 to support President Bush’s call for more base closings, a spokesman for Sen. Olympia Snowe says work has already begun to defend the base from possible closure.

The air station has appointed a commission to get ready for the next round, “to make sure the base is kept in the best possible condition,” Dave Lackey said.

The new hangar, funded from the defense spending bill passed last fall, will “better meet the needs of the Navy, as well as the airfield,” Lackey said.

He called the base an “integral part of the nation’s defense,” partly because it is “one of the closest air fields to Europe.”

Other members of the Maine congressional delegation agreed that the base, which opened in 1943 to train Royal Canadian Air Force pilots, is essential to national security.

The P-3 Orions now based there were submarine hunters during the Cold War, but have been outfitted with state-of-the-art technology. Their cameras can capture live audio and video signals and send them via satellite to commanders around the world.


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