Under the successive US administrations since Reagan, there was a concerted effort to reap a “peace dividend” by cutting military expenditure. One can’t blame either Democrat or Republican administrations exclusively – both were guilty of such behavior. The inevitable result was that, as defense funds grew harder and harder to get, they were spent on the visibly “sexy” things like new ships and aircraft and vehicles. The hidden logistics and support requirements to keep all those new toys functional were often underfunded, sometimes to a criminal extent. We’ve all read horror stories of parts having to be stripped from museum displays, to be used to repair active service ships or aircraft.
Trouble is, that backlog has gone on for so long that it’s grown to astronomical proportions. The past couple of years have seen a big effort to address the issue, but it’s far from complete. The General Accounting Office has just gone on record about the scale of the problem.
The Navy has taken steps to address training shortfalls in the surface fleet, but faces persistent maintenance and personnel challenges as it seeks to rebuild ship and submarine readiness. While the Navy has corrective actions underway, they will take years to implement. Following ship collisions in 2017, the Navy has taken steps to ensure its crews are trained to standards prior to deployment and made significant progress in those efforts. However, the Navy has struggled to complete ship maintenance—with only 30 percent of maintenance completed on time since fiscal year 2012—leading to thousands of days that ships were unavailable for training and operations (see figure). Additionally, manning shortfalls and experience gaps continue to contribute to high sailor workload and are likely to continue through at least fiscal year 2021. The Navy has developed a plan to improve shipyards and is re-examining its ship manning, among other actions; however, these positive steps have not yet fully addressed GAO’s recommendations. Looking to the future, the Navy has indicated that it wants to grow its fleet to meet demands. However, the costs of such growth are not yet known and would likely require resourcing well above currently planned levels.
Navy and Marine Corps aircraft availability has been limited due to numerous challenges (see figure). Specifically, the seven aircraft GAO reviewed have generally experienced decreasing availability since fiscal year 2011 and did not meet availability goals in fiscal years 2017 and 2018. The F-35—the future of naval aviation—also has not met availability goals due to part shortages and poor sustainment planning. In September 2018, the Department of Defense established aggressive targets for aircraft availability. While the Navy and Marine Corps are taking actions to improve aircraft availability, including addressing GAO’s recommendations, aviation readiness will take many years to recover.
There’s more at the link.
That’s a pretty devastating critique. Effectively, the forward edge of US defenses is hollow right now. If it came to a major conflict, it’s very doubtful that our front-line ships and aircraft could sustain intensive operations for more than a very short period without breaking down, or running out of critical parts and spares. They’d be sidelined as effectively as if they’d been sunk or damaged in battle – except that the damage would be self-inflicted.
It’s all very well to blame the politicians for this state of affairs, but we should also blame the generals and admirals who allowed the situation to get this bad. If they could see this building – as they surely must have – why didn’t they publicly resign, in protest against being asked to fulfil a mission that was manifestly impossible under such conditions?
Heads need to roll over this, and there needs to be a lot more done than is currently being accomplished. As always, though, the problem is spending priorities. Too many politicians want to spend taxpayer dollars in ways that will get them more votes, rather than secure the country.