Hodge describes an Air Force worn by age and stress, along with a shrinking, aging Navy:
“The U.S. military is aging, and fast. Air Force planes, on average, are the oldest in the history of that branch of the armed forces…The Air Force says the average age of F-15C and D models, which make up half of the fleet, is 25 years. That’s sprightly compared with the average age of the service’s strategic bombers, 34, and refueling aircraft, 47.
“Planned retirements mean the Navy has fewer ships today than it had on Sept. 11, 2001—284 now, 316 then. The USS Enterprise, the Navy’s oldest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, was commissioned in 1961; an estimated 250,000 sailors have served on the ship during its five-decade career. Deactivating the Enterprise, which is scheduled for 2012, will be complex and expensive, Navy officials have said.”
After a decade of war in which Pentagon spending has been focused on specialized equipment to protect troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, an expensive face-lift is badly needed. Yet adequately providing for a military is more difficult as entitlement spending empties America’s treasury:
“Some of the old equipment, battered by warfare, needs to be repaired or replaced. Other vehicles and ships need complete overhauls using up-to-date electronics and other innards. And some especially old models, such as the Air Force’s Vietnam-era Huey helicopter, need to be phased out altogether…
“The cost for all that could reach tens of billions of dollars, with the fix-it bill coming due just as federal budget pressures reach a peak. Washington’s debt reduction plan calls for cutting $350 billion from the Pentagon’s projected budget over the next 10 years. If lawmakers fail to agree on further savings, the agreement calls for an additional $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to federal spending, half of them from the military.”
These problems come as an aggressive China in engaged in a massive buildup and modernization of its military. Hodge writes this has “prompted worries in Washington that an aging U.S. military may eventually lose its edge.”
Hodge points out that the House Armed Services Committee has paid close attention to the worrying state of our military:
“In July, Rep. Randy Forbes (R., Va.), chairman of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee, held a hearing that raised questions about the military’s overall preparedness to fight future wars, part of a broader effort by conservatives to raise concerns about cuts to defense spending.
“Adm. Jonathan Greenert, vice chief of naval operations, told the panel some warships may be forced to retire earlier than anticipated because they have been used so heavily in recent year. Gen. Philip Breedlove, the vice chief of the Air Force, offered a similarly bleak vision, alluding to the ‘hollow’ military of the 1970s, when aircraft sat idle on Air Force bases, without working engines.”