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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

U.S. Military Bases Are Literally Falling Apart

F-35
An F-35A Lightning II pilot turns his aircraft along the yellow taxi line on the 33rd Fighter Wing flightline at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr./Released)

Today, the US Navy maintains some of their fifth-generation fighters with advanced avionics in pre-first-generation—World War II—aviation maintenance facilities. One naval air station in the U.S. has power for just two of their eight hangar bays for aircraft upkeep.

This is due to more than one-third of the Navy’s aviation depot square footage having been built in the 1940s, according to the GAO. The same organization found that outdated facilities have “electrical systems built for different weapon systems, historical preservation requirements, and suboptimal layouts.” Their bottom line: it is difficult to maintain complex, modern weapon systems with facilities that were designed for less complex systems.

Seems pretty obvious. Yet the US military’s hangers, barracks, motor pools and depots that help keep the military running and ensure readiness are falling apart. One of the primary reasons for this is that money for facilities is a favored “bill payer” when budgets are squeezed.

The result is a deferred modernization bill of bases and places across the military that only ever grows. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report published earlier this year notes that the cost of deferred maintenance for the services and select defense agencies is a whopping $130 billion in 2020.

This price tag for facilities upkeep is a hefty one—it is more than 1,000 percent of the combined funding requests for facility sustainment from each of these components that same year.

For the Army, failing to upgrade its buildings has come at a literal, and moral, cost. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has shown that the cost of renovating and modernizing facilities used by the active Army would cost $34 billion in 2020 dollars. That same report also found that the cost of completing all deferred maintenance and keeping buildings in line with Pentagon standards would come with a price tag of $19 billion (again in FY 2020 dollars), for a combined total of $53 billion or, today, $61 billion.

The cost of just updating Army buildings alone is the same as the cost of 679 Joint Strike Fighters or 15 upgraded Virginia-class attack submarines.

Across the board, a chief cause of the service’s growing maintenance costs are the ages of their facilities. As infrastructure and equipment get older, they become more expensive to maintain. The average age of the 49,000 Army buildings examined as part of the CBO’s analysis was 47 years. This is over a decade from what the Army considers the intended useful life of its buildings. Worse, as the CBO points out, “Thousands of those buildings, some of which are probably designated as historic [are] 75 years old or older.”

While 75 years is certainly old, the Navy takes the cake when it comes to aging and outdated real estate. The Navy’s four public shipyards range in age from 114 to 255 years old. When shipyards created to repair the wind and steam-powered ships of the past are now tasked with fixing the nuclear-powered ships and submarines of today, problems undoubtedly arise. The old age and as a result, poor condition of the yards make them less efficient when it comes to performing maintenance on the Navy’s current fleet.

Nor is it simply old buildings and layouts. The capital equipment (tools, machines, drydocks, etc.) used at yards are ancient, too. At two of the four shipyards, an average of 64 percent of all capital equipment exceeded their service lives. Similarly, the Air Force has more than 40 percent of its major equipment beyond their reliable lifespan.

When the services do receive funds for base upkeep, these often go to mission-critical functions (think runways and command centers) rather than the facilities that contribute to servicemembers’ quality of life, which lowers morale. Take the many stories of mold-infested barracks as an example. At Fort Bragg in North Carolina, over a dozen barracks were so infested with mold that nearly 1,100 soldiers were forced to relocate.

A similar story has taken shape at Fort Stewart in Georgia, where soldiers have had to deal with mold-covered barracks. But unlike Bragg, soldiers haven’t been relocated and have been asked to take part in “Operation Eradicate Mold,” an initiative that’s tasked soldiers with cleaning mold on a near daily basis.

The Air Force also has problems with building maintenance. As just one example, at the service’s school to train pilots on flying the MQ-9 Reaper, one building is, in the words of one officer, “a dumpster fire,” as mold, electric, and plumbing issues have caused it to deteriorate. There’s even a sinkhole that threatens the building’s foundation.

In the face of the current modernization crunch and the need to ramp up procurement to deter war with China, it has become all too easy to inadequately fund maintenance and upkeep. But America’s military cannot have the high-tech weapons without taking care of the facilities that maintain and house them. Nor can it have well-prepared troops to man them if leaders don’t take care of the bases that provide for their wellbeing.

Military readiness requires leaders to prioritize the bases and places where troops live, operate and run this global fighting force. If continuously underfunded, morale will break along with hangar bay doors and all the other World War II buildings across the military.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Mackenzie Eaglen is a resident fellow in the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. You can follow her on Twitter: @MEaglen.

More about Expert Author Mackenzie Eaglen: While working at AEI, Ms. Eaglen served as a staff member on the National Defense Strategy Commission, a congressionally mandated bipartisan review group whose final report in November 2018, “Providing for the Common Defense,” included assessments and recommendations for the administration. Earlier, Ms. Eaglen served as a staff member on the 2014 congressionally mandated National Defense Panel, established to assess US defense interests and strategic objectives, and in 2010 on the congressionally mandated bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, which evaluated the Pentagon’s defense strategy. She is also one of the 12-member US Army War College Board of Visitors, which offers advice about program objectives and effectiveness.

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Mackenzie Eaglen is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where she works on defense strategy, defense budgets, and military readiness. She is also a regular guest lecturer at universities, a member of the board of advisers of the Alexander Hamilton Society, and a member of the steering committee of the Leadership Council for Women in National Security.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Dan Jensen

    December 2, 2022 at 10:35 am

    Yes, and American struggle to make ends meet as $700 billion a year goes to military spending.

  2. Jimmyf40

    December 2, 2022 at 11:21 am

    Where’d the annual one trillion bucks for the DoD go.

    The DoD chalks up a massive fiscal accounting black hole at end of year, for many many years now.

    Did the money go to hush hush digital casino operatives, blue movies sales people and fat Leonard type subcontractors and middlemen hustlers.

    Biden needs to pay more attention to this problem before trying to kickstart the next global conflict….

  3. Neofeudalfuture

    December 2, 2022 at 12:36 pm

    Its not a money problem. Its corruption and incompetence. The Pentagon has lost track(doesn’t want to know) of trillions of dollars over the years, but 34 billion for buildings is too much.

    Gotta get real, the problem is the DoD is used as a conduit to launder money and for politics. War fighting is becoming the cover story. Wheres the war led manufacturing boom? All I hear is money being thrown around and its been declared that questioning it is tantamount to treason. Lol. Cmon guys its a scam. They replaced Afghanistan with ukraine. Only a small portion goes to the war a lot is being kickbacked by Ukrainianian officials back to the US, and its a lot bigger than Afghanistan ever was.

    Ask yourself have you heard of a plan to build weapons manufacturing facilities to produce the gigantic amount of weapons all those billions is supposed to buy? I haven’t and that’s the tell its not serious. The weapons will just be that much more expensive and years behind schedule as per usual, maybe with some cost overruns shoveled in too.

  4. Jim

    December 2, 2022 at 1:05 pm

    This is dangerous.

    I’m concerned, if not down right worried the U. S. Military is turning into a Potemkin Village.

    We know the military isn’t meeting its recruiting goals.

    We know the emphasis on a “Woke” military is having a deleterious impact on morale and recruiting… with evidence coming on that military capability is being effected, too.

    Proper maintenance & preparation is essential for military effectiveness… it shows basic pride in the institution, as well.

    This not the time to runaround being bellicose towards China or any near-peer adversary.

    We need to get our house in order… and the answer is not simply to shovel piles of money into the Pentagon.

    There are too many accounting discrepancies going on to issue a blank check to the military… it’s like giving an allowance to a wasteful child.

    The military brass must look squarely in the mirror and if they can’t do that… then we are in serious trouble.

    Having a disfunctional military will lead to an over reliance on nuclear weapons…

    You can not win a nuclear war, period.

    It’s MAD, but our current drift in readiness will lead to a situation where political leaders are tempted to rely on nuclear weapons to pull our fat out of the fire.

    In other words, this is a scandal of epic proportions.

  5. GhostTomahawk

    December 2, 2022 at 2:43 pm

    There are a lot of ways to spin this.

    The money we are throwing away on Ukraine could’ve done all the work.

    The money we throw away on poverty programs could’ve done all the work.

    The money we throw away on wasteful military spending could’ve done all the work.

    Fact is the money is there but it’s always diverted to other more valuable pet projects.

  6. Surf

    December 2, 2022 at 3:47 pm

    Maybe if you didnt have over 160 bases worldwide, you could live within your means……….

    But, thats the breaks in a welfare warfare state………

    Welfare recipients get the gravy and the military gets the beans…..

  7. Goran

    December 2, 2022 at 5:09 pm

    Surf: “Maybe if you didnt have over 160 bases worldwide, you could live within your means……”

    The number of our bases is much, much higher, and I can infer two things from this;

    1. the US is either a benign or a positive force on the international stage, considering that it is not exploiting such global reach the way, say Russia would. As the US military was leaving Afghanistan, civilians were tossing their babies to the departing soldiers and trying to cling to military aircraft on take off. Yes, the United States military is large and with a large footprint, but it is not an imperial army.

    2. You being so off on the number of American military installations is a great example of why having US presence is important; to you, having a 100, 500 or a thousand of US bases doesn’t feel different. If it was Russian bases, you’d feel the difference if their number doubled or tripled. The entire world would feel that difference and it wouldn’t be nice.

    As for the article itself, it is missing the point as the real issue is a divergence in how society is evolving in relation to what should be a military culture of dealing with challenges. Various sensitivities are trickling into dimensions of human activity they don’t belong in … yet.

  8. Tom

    December 3, 2022 at 7:18 am

    Yes but we have plenty of Admirals and Generals JUST waiting to go to work for the Military Industrial Complex and get mo money

  9. Mark

    December 3, 2022 at 8:36 am

    We are sending $Billions to the Ukraine it seems on a daily basis. The US Government is one of the most incompetent machines around. We used to throw thousands of dollars away in excess Blackstock during an ORI so as to not get written up.

    USAF vet

  10. The Al U Know

    December 3, 2022 at 9:07 am

    If there are more than 160 it is accurate that it is “over 160”. Nitpicking is unbecoming, especially when we are given a ton of numbers in the article. Well given 49,000 buildings, the article’s metric, certain “sensitivities” being let in is a serious problem. Just ask 1000 relocated soldiers about the medical sensitivities to mould. The military takes it seriously, do you not do your own “Operation Mr. Clean” at home?

    Wokeist sensitivities on the other hand are a whole other can of worms discussed elsewhere at length.

    Also, that logic about there being more bases and not feeling it does not make sense.

    If you do not feel the impact of all those bases it is a good thing. Are they doing a job? Deterrence? Logistics?
    They keep the Red Menace 2.0 and the Rabid Bear at bay…I guess. It takes roughly 750 bases to contain Russia’s 20 and China’s imperialist expansion of 1. Efficiency in action, no. And what of India’s take-off and Iran or Turkiye’s posturing. Instead will the US need evermore bases to contain them?

    Most are in well-to-do nations like Germany, Italy, Japan and South Korea. If they are in danger of falling into sinkholes and affecting the health of infantry, their impact will not be so minimal as it’s is an occupational hazard and a distraction if a battle would start. Surely all those superior democratic and economic countries can stand on their own 2 feet. If Ukraine, the most corrupt Euro country pre-2019 could do it…Oh, wait, they are getting the money to do it! Even if they waste half of it. Even the Canadian soldiers in that 5000 strong battle-group in Latvia think that they can wipe the floor with the Russians.

    So, again why all that American infrastructure? A hand tied in an unbreakable handshake with a friend is one less to fight today’s enemies and the same one they will use to pull you down when they have a change of heart tomorrow. Perhaps it is the US’ hand that is tied with China’s.

    Keeping with the article’s focus, it will hard hard to support F-35s without workable hangar bays and support nuke subs in bases meant for dreadnoughts.

    Perhaps someone can elaborate on what they contribute to local economies against what the cost-benefits would be if soldiers were stationed more locally. Much of expenditures are on paying salary and also, yes, the tech too.

  11. Old Desert Coyote

    December 3, 2022 at 9:42 am

    The problem is not the dilapidated bases it is where they are at. At the time they were built they served their purpose, to train troops and maintain equipment close to the major arteries of commerce and communications. THINK ROADS, RAILROADS, TELEPHONE EXCHANGES, ELECTRICAL POWER GENERATION AND DISTRIBUTION,etc.

    Now the land these bases sit on are prime real-estate for developers.Think of the Presidio of San Francisco, Fort Ord, (Monterey California, camp pendalton California) Fort Brag NC. I could go on but why? As a member of Congress if I let these bases fall into ruin it will be cheaper to build a new base some where else and the old base can be sold off to Real estate developers for pennies on the dollar. The Real estate people make a boat load of cash and they grease my palm for making sure it happens. Also do liberal politicians really want a bunch of drunken light Infantrymen from a local military post in town when a couple of hundred BLM and ANTIFA thugs decide to burn things down. I DON’T THINK SO!!!

  12. David N. Tate

    December 3, 2022 at 11:01 am

    The American taxpayers provide over $750 Billion annually to the Department of Defense. This includes funding to support facility maintence. However, lets remember that the United States maintains facilities and basing in over 85 nation states outside the 50 United States. The United States is constructing temporary and permanent basing in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Romania. These new temporary and permanent facilities will cost the American taxpayers tens of billions of dollars for absolutely no return on investment. Aside from this, combat operations cost money. The United States spent well over $6 Trillion on the Global War on Terror (GWOT). The United States is already committed to at least $1 Trillion in spending to support the ongoing proxy war in the Ukraind and the new temporary and permanent basing in Eastern Europe. This is another article from 1945 that advocates mindless spending. The National Debt exceeds $31 Trillion now and is expected to exceed $34 Trillion by the end of 2024. The poor American taxpayers do not have unlimited funds to provide the government to waste on useless basing.

  13. Brian Foley

    December 3, 2022 at 11:57 am

    Well, the simple solution (and the American Way)would be to just throw more money at the problem. The more difficult solution would be to trim the Department of Defense of unnecessary projects, items and personnel. The generational aspects of American society are going to force the military to do more with fewer people (unmanned vehicles, drones, robots, etc) so we might as well get our heads wrapped around the process before it gets to the point where we’re forced to make the changes instead of being able to adopt to the changes…it’s a matter of numbers.

  14. Ek68

    December 3, 2022 at 12:53 pm

    They are more concerned about using proper pronouns and investing/procuring shit that has more problems than the guests on Dr. Phil (You know: Ford-class CVN ($12B +), the LCS, the Zumwalt DDGs, the failed FCS program that the Army pissed away billions on, just to name a few).

  15. Nunya Bidness

    December 3, 2022 at 5:59 pm

    But plenty of money for WOKE training, DEIA indoctrination, and transition surgery and anything left over goes to Ukraine. The military has been completely compromised. Sleep well America.

  16. Michael

    December 4, 2022 at 1:08 am

    I managed the real estate at a large base. There were a few thousand buildings and structures and most dated back to the 1950s or 1960s. The bottom line is that it’s very expensive to do any work on a base – new construction of maintenance. I worked in the commercial real estate sector before and knew what it cost to build buildings. It will literally cost 2-3x to build the exact same building inside the fence line vs. outside the fence line. There are multiple reasons – limited contractors bidding on the work, requirement for all US employees who can pass a background check, onerous requirements from the government, slow payment from the government, government employees who don’t care about the cost as long as they can get the budget approved, etc. Call it waste, fraud, or abuse it’s just the norm. $300,000 for a pre-fabricated metal shade structure that should have cost $50-100k, $2 million for what is basically a hallway connecting two buildings with a few offices (but built to specific security standards), millions of dollars to replace a roof. On and on. Replacing a barracks with 200-300 single-occupancy rooms would costs tens of million while you could build a luxury apartment complex with the same number of units (but far nicer) off base for the same price. I left after a couple of years because I couldn’t stand seeing all the waste.

  17. Vincent Hill

    December 4, 2022 at 11:03 am

    DoD needs a command for construction and maintenance of facilities of all the services. Funding must be dedicated to facilities only so the generals and admirals can’t redirect it to other programs. New and flashy programs get the funding while required facilities care is the stepchild.

  18. MrTea

    December 4, 2022 at 3:07 pm

    RE: the real estate, Ord has been closed for decades and now hosts the California State U. at Monterey Bay. The Presidio also closed and is now a National Park. Treasure Island was seized by the Bolsheviks in SF for their various “affordable housing” projects and any chance of capitalizing effectively on that prime property was defeated. Similar a bayside Army depot in Oakland and the Alameda Naval Air have been fumbled and delayed by the local political extortionists. (Though Alameda is also a Superfund site, Hunter’s Point across the bay also has issues). Mare Island further inland on the bay has had more success re-developing and hosts a nice museum. Hamilton AFB in Marin County has toxic waste issues (as do many, probably most) bases yet thousands line up to vie for slowly rationed out housing vouchers (by lotto) anyway.

    Regarding the Missing Money, those with good memories may recall the ominous press conference–the DAY BEFORE 9/11–when the DOD admitted a trillion $ could not be accounted for. The matter was glossed over in the ensuing tumult but there was yet another presser, this time James Comey at the FBI instead of Mueller, admitting the same issue. This time the Alleged News Media blew right by, CNN proclaiming it “an accounting gaffe”. Yet the work accessible at Catherine Fitts site Solari.com showed that it was anything but benign. This is one of the most important Official Media “cancellations” in history. (There are many, as those familiar with Operation Mockingbird know–which is of course ITSELF Officially Canceled from media and 99% of academe.) Solari also links to one of the most insightful things ever written about the “real world” of government-corporate investment schemes, or just go direct https://dillonreadandco.com/ which is also “canceled” save for Ms. Fitts appearances on George Noory’s CoastAM.

  19. Steve

    December 5, 2022 at 10:01 am

    If you could convince the lefties that it’s a matter of “Climate Change” they’d fund upgrading every facility in the DOD. Of course, due to the inevitable fraud, waste, abuse, graft, and corruption, the only thing that would get done would be resurfacing an unused parking lot at a remote base in Northern Alaska!

  20. Greg

    December 5, 2022 at 2:16 pm

    I agree with some of the commenters. Obviously must have never served. It is a disgrace that our TOP Military Commanders have allowed this to happen. They obviously are more concerned with their own advancement and full woke careers than that of the US States Military in which they serve!
    I am sure that if someone critically looked they will find an abundance of General/Flag grade Officers that are in do nothing billets that very easily could be combined with others!

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