Broken: Despite Massive Military Spending, America’s Bases Are Literally Falling Apart

Photo by Daniel A. Taylor/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

Mary Rooke Commentary and Analysis Writer
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Despite the trillions of dollars Congress has spent on the U.S. military in the past decade, American military bases are crumbling to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars in deferred maintenance.

Since 2008, the U.S. has spent over $600 billion annually on military spending, with 2021 coming in at just over $800 billion. However, despite the ballooning budget, maintenance is consistently put off, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) found.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY “KUWAIT-US-IRAQ” U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Gerard Callahan repairs an Apache attack helicopter damaged during Operation Iraqi Freedom in Camp Arifjan, 50km south of Kuwait City, 22 June 2003.

“Today, the U.S. Navy maintains some of their fifth-generation fighters with advanced avionics in pre-first-generation–World War II– aviation maintenance facilities,” AEI senior fellow Mackenzie Eaglen said. “One naval air station in the U.S. has power for just two of their eight hangar bays for aircraft upkeep.”

Much of the U.S. military’s equipment is being housed and maintained on bases and in hangers built over 70 years ago, with nearly 30% of its facilities in use well past their expected lifespans, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

Despite the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) already having $137 billion in deferred maintenance backlogs, the GAO found that the U.S. military budget compounds the maintenance issues by consistently underestimating the amount needed to keep these outdated facilities functional.

From 2017 to 2020, maintenance on the around 160,000 U.S. military facilities worldwide still in use past their expected expiration required $47.5 billion in funding, while the DoD’s budget allocated just $38.3 billion, a shortfall of over $9 billion, GAO reported. “Installation officials stated that deferred maintenance leads to the premature failure of facility systems and often leads to more costly repairs and that maintenance is most often delayed for lower-priority facilities such as living quarters and childcare facilities,” the GAO report stated.

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report in November detailing the high cost of modernizing the U.S. Army’s buildings. Of the 500,000 Army facilities, the CBO audited around 49,000, finding $19 billion in backlogged repairs and concluding that it would cost another $34 billion to renovate the outdated structures.

Thirty-three percent of all Army buildings “required minimal, significant, or major work,” the CBO reported, with 16% of those structures requiring “significant” renovations and 6% needing “major” repairs. The Army bases with the highest deferred maintenance costs were Fort Bragg in North Carolina and U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, according to the CBO.