Once the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan finally wind down and the huge yearly Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) supplemental funding bills end, the U.S. will save—or at least stop spending—an absolutely staggering amount of money each year. (The Obama administration requested $118 billion for war funding for fiscal 2012, down from $159 billion in fiscal 2011.) But the loss of that cash also spells trouble for the Defense Department, since the services have been using those supplementals to fund the repair and modernization of their damaged or aging equipment. Without that cash, and with the defense budget on the chopping block for hundreds of billions in cuts over the next decade, future repair and reset might be in trouble.
Michael Disano, a senior fellow at McLean, Va.-based government consulting firm LMI, says that maintenance base budgets “probably have been understated as a result of the overreliance on the overseas contingency operations dollars,” adding that there are some “enduring requirements that have been funded with OCO dollars, and that poses a real challenge to the department.”
One way that the department is going to try and find savings is in reducing the overall size of the force to pre-9/11 levels. But even then, Disano reminds us that “maintenance work follows equipment and force structure. If force structure changes … maintenance requirements could go down, but if you eliminate newer programs, maintenance costs could go up” as you have to repair aging fleets. He adds that while total work done at depots has grown with the conflict, “if there are substantial cuts, that’s going to cause some stresses. The stresses could come from not enough work to support the payroll, or not enough payroll to support the work. . . . There’s going be enough stress to go around.”