WILLOW GROVE, PA-In a telephone press conference, US Sen. Rick Santorum disclosed a plan he is developing with the Department of Defense to utilize the Willow Grove Naval Air Station as a communications center to support US military air campaigns around the world. “I’ve been meeting with the Secretary of the Air Force for several months trying to cobble together sufficient missions to use the base for clear military service under Phase III of the total force integration program taking place in the Department of Defense.”

The use does not involve planes or airstrips, but calls for a communications headquarters where mission commanders use technology to guide combat commanders on the ground in far-flung locations worldwide. “This is a brand new concept in which the Air Force would utilize technology to help better project military power without having to move personnel,” Santorum said. “It’s a security issue.

“Willow Grove is a great institution, and there is a lot of experienced personnel there. It’s a great base in a strategic location outside Washington, and I believe this is in the best interest of the military.” The Air Force has until June 23 to comment on the recommendations, and Santorum said, “I don’t see any problems or show stoppers.” He acknowledged that the headquarters could wind up elsewhere and the decision rests with the Adjutant General and Gov. Ed Rendell.

Meanwhile, Rendell continues to hold out for maintaining Willow Grove as a base for flying missions. In a statement, he says Pennsylvania has been selected to receive an Air Force Warfighting Headquarters Augmentation Unit, but has not designated a location.

“The Air Force has suggested locating the mission at Willow Grove,” Rendell said, adding, “details of the new mission have yet to be provided to the Pennsylvania National Guard. Anything short of maintaining the unit’s aircraft and the airfield at Willow Grove just doesn’t comply with the final BRAC recommendation in the spirit of Federal Judge John Padova’s order that the Department of Defense’s recommendation for the 111th [National Guard Fighter Wing] was ‘null and void’ at the outset.”

When the BRAC commission designated the Willow Grove base for closure, Rendell sued DoD, calling the move unconstitutional because disposition of a National Guard facility requires the consent of a governor. Willow Grove houses both US military and state National Guard. The judge ruled in Rendell’s favor, but the BRAC commission ignored the ruling because the base is DoD property. For previous coverage, click here.

“While the governor is doing what he can in the courts,” Santorum said, “I’m doing what I can. There are other plans in the pipeline. I’m working on a variety of follow-on missions.”

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