The House Armed Services Committee’s Readiness Subcommittee rejected another Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Robert Wittman, R-Va., opined, “Strategy, not budgets, should drive national security decisions, and I won’t support a reduction in our infrastructure until I’m confident our nation’s readiness, and our military, won’t suffer.” Wittman added, “It’s premature to expend dollars we don’t have to fix a problem we’re not sure exists.”
Concerning strategy, the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance represents a presidentially-endorsed, mid-term defense review that accounts for both the recent developments in the security environment (e.g., Arab Spring, reductions in U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan) and the new budgetary realities resulting from the $487 billion in spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Wittman’s confession that he’s unsure a problem exists is disappointing. In August 2012, the secretary of defense stated that “As DOD draws down its forces from the wars of this last decade, it will be moving toward a smaller, leaner and more agile force over the next 5 years for both strategic and financial reasons.”
The secretary further noted that “DOD faces tough fiscal constraints due to the very real financial crisis confronting the country and that as the force structure drew down, having to incur costs to maintain large infrastructure would reduce the funds needed to train and support service members.” As part of its fiscal year 2013 budget request, DOD asked for two more rounds of BRAC in 2013 and 2015.
The Air Force’s Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, in their Fiscal Year 2014 Air Force Posture opening statement on April 12 to the House Committee on Armed Services, spoke about money, force structure and excess infrastructure.
“A capacity analysis conducted prior to the 2005 BRAC suggested that the Air Force had 24 percent capacity that was excess to our mission needs. However, the 2005 BRAC did not make major reductions to Air Force facilities, and since that time, we have reduced our force structure by more than 500 aircraft and reduced our active duty military end-strength by seven percent.
“The Air Force currently has significant excess infrastructure that is very expensive to maintain in terms of both financial and human resources. In the current and projected fiscal environment, we simply cannot afford it. The money that we are spending on maintaining excess infrastructure is more urgently needed to recapitalize and sustain our weapon systems, improve readiness, and invest in the quality of life needs of airmen.”
Wittman, one of three subcommittee members from Virginia where over 20 military installations are located, is off-base on three counts:
• Money, or the lack thereof, greatly affects strategy; the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review will be conducted against a backdrop of unprecedented fiscal uncertainty.
• Air Force leadership has said loud and clear that excess infrastructure is siphoning money needed to maintain readiness and morale.
• Turning a politically deaf ear to the excess infrastructure chorus emanating from Air Force and other service leaders is unwarranted.