O&M Costs Could Hamper Plans for Military Buildup

By Jon Harper
Airmen perform maintenance on an F-16.

Photo: Defense Dept.

Continued growth in operation and maintenance costs could undermine efforts to beef up the U.S. military, analysts said.

In a recent report, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the Trump administration’s plans would put the armed services on a trajectory to add 237,000 personnel in the coming years, about a 10 percent increase. Additionally, the Navy would move to increase its fleet battle force by 30 percent to 355 ships, and the Air Force would increase the fighter force from 55 to 60 squadrons, according to the report, “Analysis of the Long-Term Costs of the Administration’s Goals for the Military.”

If the Trump administration’s plans were fully funded, the total cost from fiscal years 2018 through 2027 would be $683 billion higher than the Obama administration’s final budget plan for those same years. About $342 billion of that would stem from growing the force after 2018, the report said.

However, it’s unclear whether that kind of money will be available.

“CBO estimates the administration’s goals for the military would result in steady increase in costs so that by 2027, the base budget (in 2018 dollars) would reach $688 billion, more than 20 percent larger than peak spending during the 1980s” military buildup overseen by President Ronald Reagan at the height of the Cold War, the report said.

Additionally, projected defense spending in fiscal years 2018 through 2021 would exceed the Budget Control Act caps by $295 billion, it noted.

In a constrained budget environment, continued growth in operation and maintenance costs will eat into procurement and readiness funding, said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

O&M accounts for 39 percent of the defense base budget, he noted during a briefing with reporters. That’s up from an average of 28 percent during the Cold War. Cost growth in this category is expected to outpace inflation in the coming years, according to Harrison and the CBO report.

New equipment has been costing more to operate and sustain than the systems they are replacing, Harrison said. “Platforms get older, they cost more to operate and maintain; then we finally replace them, and that costs even more. … It’s this cycle that we’re in, and I don’t think there’s an easy way out of it.”

This dynamic doesn’t bode well for a military buildup, he noted. “If these trends continue, the O&S costs are just going to eat the budget alive.”

Topics: Logistics, Logistics and Maintenance, Budget

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