Next year's round of U.S. military base closings will be a "painful process" involving a significant number of installations, Defense Secretary William Perry predicts.

The Pentagon is to disclose its candidates for potential closure by the end of February. Some officials have said the next round recommended to the independent Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission could be a large as the previous three rounds taken together.Utah's Hill Air Force Base reportedly is included among the bases being studied for closure.

Asked by reporters Wednesday if that were the case, Perry said he thought "it will be of a significant size."

Perry added that the 1995 round would be comparable to the 1993 round, in which 30 major bases and dozens of smaller facilities throughout the country were shut down.

"We've already closed all of those that were relatively easy to close, so it's going to be a painful process, but it must be done," he said.

But he said even more closures were necessary because military facilities have been cut less than 20 percent while troop strength has been fallen more than 30 percent over the past several years.

"We need to make that further reduction, or we will have a disproportionate amount of the defense budget going to overhead, rather than to the fighting forces," Perry said.

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More than 70 major bases have been ticketed for closing since 1988, but only about 2 dozen have actually been shut down. Under the base closure law, 1995 was the last of four rounds of base closings and many officials predicted it would be the largest.

Perry said he has had informal discussions with some lawmakers concerned that the Pentagon's proposals for additional closures will be too large, and found that while the process will not be easy, it will move forward.

"The commission will come together, we will make the proposals to it, and ultimately, they will be accepted by the Congress," he said.

Under the law, the commission creates the final list of bases to be closed after receiving nominations from the Pentagon. Congress and the president must accept or reject the list without change.

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