The U.S. Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, will visit Portugal next week to discuss the future of Lajes Air Field, on Terceira, Azores, according to Portuguese Defense Minister Jose Pedro Aguiar-Branco. Panetta is scheduled to visit Lisbon, Madrid, Rome and London during the weeklong trip.
“The U.S. Secretary of State Panetta will be in Lisbon Monday and Tuesday for meetings,” said Aguiar-Branco to reporters during a visit to Ponta Delgada, Azores, this week.
While in Lisbon, the U.S. Secretary of Defense will be at the Ministry of National Defense for consultations and will meet privately with Portuguese Foreign Minister Paulo Portas.
According to official sources, the topic of discussion will be the U.S. Department of Defense decision to reduce the U.S. military presence in the Lajes Air Field, on Terceira Island.
Last December, the U.S. Air Force informed the Portuguese authorities of its decision to pull out 400 military personnel and 500 family members from Lajes Air Field by the end of fiscal 2014.
The Lajes Air Field has about 1,100 personnel, including about 700 local nationals. The U.S. deployment includes 580 U.S. military and about 700 family members on the island, under a Defense Cooperation Agreement signed by Portugal and the USA in 1995.
The Lajes Air Field, the second largest employer on the island, employs about 700 tenured Portuguese workers and nearly 90 short-term workers. U.S. civilian and local national positions will be reduced during fiscal 2014.
The cutbacks are part of a global U.S. Department of Defense belt-tightening policy due to budget constraints, as part of a wider $500 USD billion reduction in U.S. military spending. The move will save the U.S. Air Force an estimated $35 million a year.
Activated in 1943, the Lajes Air Field is located on the northeast tip of Terceira Island. It is home to the 65th Air Base Wing and U.S. Forces Azores providing logistics support for more than 3,000 aircraft, including fighters from the United States and 20 allied nations.
The Azores, (population 250,000) became an Autonomous Region of Portugal in 1976. The government of the Autonomous Region of the Azores includes the Legislative Assembly, composed of 57 elected deputies, elected by universal suffrage for a four-year term; the Regional Government and Presidency, with parliamentary legitimacy, composed of a President, a Vice-President and seven Regional Secretaries responsible for the Regional Government executive operations. The Autonomous Region of the Azores is represented in the Council of Ministers of the Central Government by a representative appointed by the President of Portugal.