Defense budgets are going to decline, even as the United States continues to fight two wars. In addition, there are critical modernization programs such as the F-35 joint strike fighter, expanded Stryker deployments, additional Virginia-class attack submarines and new DDG-51 surface combatants that must proceed. Combine this with expansion of personnel costs due to increases in the number of uniformed and civilian personnel, pay raises, new benefits and rising health care costs and there is not much left over in the defense budget. There are already reports that the FY 2011 proposed defense budget will see major reductions in operations and maintenance accounts not directly related to the war efforts.
As a result, it is likely that the Department of Defense will have to make major cuts in logistics and sustainment. These hits will have to come in such areas as reset, depot maintenance and upgrades. The Army may be hardest hit by this problem. Service leaders have long asserted that after the end of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan it will require years of supplemental funding to reset the force. A years’ worth of M-1s, Bradleys and Humvees are at the Army’s major depots waiting for repair. This backlog is a huge cost that the Army will have great difficulty funding. As a result, it is likely that much of the reset and upgrades will have to be deferred.
The Air Force and Navy are facing the same problem. So great is the burden that the Air Force is trying to retire the JSTARS despite the fact that this system provides absolutely vital intelligence to ground forces. The Navy has an aging vertical lift fleet that it badly needs to upgrade or retire.
There are no easy answers to the problem of rising costs and inadequate resources. The nation’s leaders seem to desire more national security than is affordable under projected defense budgets. As a result, the military will have to find savings where they can. Usually this means taking the cuts in logistics and sustainment. The danger is that we will return to the hollow force of previous eras.
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