The details of Gates' plan, announced Thursday, raised red flags among some area leaders and regional advocates, who argued that Gates didn't offer enough specifics about how the cutbacks would save money or improve national defense.
Gates said he plans to decommission the Navy's Norfolk-based Second Fleet, turning over control of its ships and operations to Fleet Forces Command. Both are headquartered at Norfolk Naval Station. President Barack Obama on Thursday night also approved an earlier plan to shut down the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk and Suffolk.
None of the more than 120 ships would leave Norfolk, Gates said during a Pentagon news conference, but about 160 military positions could be eliminated.
"During the Cold War, this command had distinct and significant operational responsibilities," he said. "Today, its primary responsibility is training and mission preparation."The Second Fleet was established in 1950 in Norfolk and has participated in several historic military operations, including a 1962 naval blockade during the Cuban missile crisis. It also trained more than half the Navy's ships that were deployed during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991.
Under the new arrangement, the Second Fleet ships would be under the direct command of Adm. John C. Harvey Jr., the four-star head of Fleet Forces Command.
In a memo from the White House, the president said he accepted Gates' plan to shut down JFCOM - a move he announced in August - on a date to be determined by Gates.
Pentagon officials have said they expect that some parts of the command could remain in the region but have not specified how many of JFCOM's 3,760 jobs in the region might remain.
Gates said that officials are "still refining the details but expect that roughly 50 percent of the capabilities under JFCOM will be kept and assigned to other organizations."
The statement doesn't shed light on how many jobs might be lost and what kinds of positions might remain, said Craig Quigley, who heads the taxpayer-funded Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance, which lobbies to protect the region's military assets.
Local members of Congress said they don't have enough information to judge whether the cuts proposed by Gates are defensible.
U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach, whose district includes the Second Fleet and JFCOM headquarters, said Gates' decision about Second Fleet is troubling because he didn't provide any data to justify the change.
U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, was more emphatic, saying he believes Gates' efforts are part of a larger effort by the Obama administration to restrict military spending so that the funds can be spent elsewhere.
"You have no analysis, no documentation," Forbes said. "You simply have the cut, and then you back fill the analysis."
Forbes, who has become chairman of the readiness subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, has said he wants Congress to have a more direct role in setting defense priorities.
"We're going to be demanding audits of the Department of Defense," he said.
Gates also said the Navy will cut costs by reducing land-based staffs for submarines, patrol aircraft, destroyer squadrons and an aircraft carrier strike group.
The Navy was careful to point out that no ships, subs or aircraft will depart Norfolk or any other homeport as a result of the changes.
"We're going to streamline shore-based infrastructure by consolidating," said Lt. Courtney Hillson, a Navy spokeswoman. "But we're not moving any ships or planes - just people."
Gates said the Navy will use the savings to develop a new generation of electronic jammers and unmanned aircraft, and to buy more F/A-18 fighter jets, a new destroyer, a littoral combat ship, an ocean surveillance vessel and fleet oilers.