A Plan for Strategic Basing
As the military services struggle with excess infrastructure that taxes fiscal resources and limits their ability to effectively maintain their installations, the Department of Defense should examine a new approach to basing that emphasizes capability over capacity.
By Lt. Col. Bradley L. Johnson, USAF, and Col. Lance D. Clark, P.E., M.SAME, USAF
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii hosts both U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force missions, infrastructure and personnel. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY MASS COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST1ST CLASS SHANNON E. RENFROE
Installations are the platforms from which the United States projects military power. They serve as the foundation of decisive military action, send strategic messages to allies and adversaries, reinforce commitments, and build partner capacity to enable global access in peace and conflict. Department of Defense (DOD) leaders must ensure the constant readiness of these assets, and do it at the lowest taxpayer cost. This translates to the minimum number of facilities on the minimum number of installations needed to generate all required missions at the lowest lifecycle cost.
To keep pace with rapidly emerging developments in today’s complex security environment, DOD has emphasized capability (what something does) over capacity (how much of something) in its weapon systems. It must take the same approach in managing its installations to project the power dependent on those systems. An installation’s capability is the total direct mission, mission support, and community support that it generates. Its capacity is a measure of its total infrastructure. DOD’s installation portfolio has long struggled to meet this balance. Although the military has strategically selected the location of installations since its founding, a mix of politics, economics and local community impact have played an increasing role in determining what infrastructure it develops, what infrastructure it maintains, and what infrastructure it divests.
EXCESS INFRASTRUCTURE CHALLENGES
DOD estimated a 24 percent excess infrastructure capacity in 2004—but only reduced 3.4 percent through the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Program. Since then, the department has significantly reduced force structure. That has only added to the excess infrastructure, further taxing fiscal resources.
DOD’s trend over the past decade to take increasing risk in infrastructure further exacerbates the problem. As with any resource, installations require tailored and consistent investment over time to provide capability. However, DOD increasingly diverts facility sustainment, restoration and modernization funds to pay modernization and force structure bills. Specifically, DOD obligated only 65 percent of the modeled facility sustainment and restoration requirement in FY2013 and budgeted 74 percent and 65 percent over the next two years respectively. It increased its FY2016 request to 81 percent, but still stands 19 percent below requirement. Operating foundational weapon systems at such elevated risk increases the likelihood of accelerated failures, which are more catastrophic and expensive, and severely degrades mission readiness and capabil¬ity. In an era of continually constrained resources, DOD must reduce infrastructure risk by strategically managing its corporate installation capacity.
Historically, Congress has granted DOD the authority to right size and divest excess capacity via BRAC. Utilizing four rounds between 1988 and 1995, DOD reduced basing structure by about 20 percent. BRAC 2005 was notably different as it mandated both an efficiency and transformation piece, resulting in reduced divestment at a much higher initial cost. Despite achieving notable transformation objectives, the poor savings-to-cost ratio has been hard for many lawmakers to look past. Still, BRAC remains a valuable tool to divest excess infrastructure and DOD must continue to petition Congress to authorize future rounds. However, DOD cannot rely solely on realignment and closures. It must be proactive and leverage partnerships and opportunities to strategically manage its installations with a long-term focus.
The installation enterprise can be broken down into notional models based on the range of capabilities bases generate. The last two models may be the least known, but both pose unique opportunities to leverage resources. The Total Force Association model makes the same capital investments available to Active, Guard and Reserve units, maximizing the time these resources are in service. The Warm model takes more of a “mothball” approach, providing minimal maintenance to make basic infrastructure available for future contingencies.
LEVERAGING EXISTING CAPABILITIES
The 2007 Defense Installation Strategic Plan (DISP) provides guidance to achieve DOD’s strategic vision and installation end-state. DISP guides the implementation of Executive Order 13327, which directs “the efficient and economical use of Federal real property resources in accordance with their value as national assets and in the best interests of the Nation.” DISP outlines six specific goals toward achieving DOD’s strategic vision to ensure “assets and services are available when and where needed” The first two goals—Right Size and Place, and Right Quality—are particularly relevant to provide the right capacity of high-end installation capability. The other goals are Right Risk, Right Resources, Right Management Practices, and Right Workforce. Right Size and Place ensures that individual installations are custom fit to the unique missions they generate. Right Quality ensures the availability of safe and effective facilities from which to work and project capabilities, including a stable and consistent funding stream to sustain infrastructure across its lifecycle.
Such a strategic path calls for a ready, agile and inclusive total force organization that is full-spectrum capable and high-end focused. Installation infrastructure is not inherently agile or flexible. It is static, as its investment and development cycle (plan, program, design and construct) takes years, even decades. Strategic basing guidance must boldly forecast future mission capability requirements so DOD can tailor its infrastructure capacity through targeted investment, development, and divestiture. DOD’s strategic basing guidance should focus on a 30-year path—looking beyond current challenges and known near-term changes to identify desired long-term installation end-states. The department can then plan, program and advocate for resources to ensure that installations meet the minimum capabilities for today’s risks, while also strategically investing to provide those end-state capabilities. Such a framework starts by determining the installation capabilities required to generate mission(s), and concludes by identifying the capabili¬ties fundamental to an installation. Once planners frame the strategic mission capability requirement, DOD can identify the fundamental capabilities installations must provide and determine the required composition and capacity of its future installations. This involves categorizing the direct mission, mission support, personnel support, and local support activities comprising installation communities.
One approach is to categorize each functional activity and associated infrastructure as “core,” “important” or “peripheral.” Core activities provide vital, direct mission accomplishment. Examples include training facilities, ranges, airfield pavements, motor pools, communications infrastructure, and command and control facilities. Important activities, such as supply storage facilities and mission support administration facilities, provide mission support and essential personnel support. Peripheral activities provide community support and Morale, Welfare and Recreation activities. Although most infrastructure falls neatly into these categories, facilities like dorms, dining facilities, child development centers and chapels are less clear and require difficult evaluation. Categorizing activities as peripheral does not minimize their importance. Rather, it recognizes that communities surrounding installations provide significantly more support now than they did decades ago, yet DOD continues to duplicate and subsidize much of this support on its bases. The total government costs of these services suggests there may be better ways to provide such benefits. DOD must evaluate options to reduce installation capacity to the essential capabilities required to ensure the highest quality and most ready installation weapon systems. Funding 65 percent of required facility sustainment, restoration and modernization (or even 81 percent) will not keep installations ready and relevant. DOD should determine which peripheral functions to retain and which to accept as severable, rather than continue incremental and reactive change. Over several decades, this paradigm shift would gradually transform bases toward a mission installation structure (a place to work) versus a community installation structure (a place to live). Once DOD defines its required installation capabilities and the composition of its objective installation structure, it should empower local leaders to determine how best to deliver the required functions. Every installation’s mission and composition is unique and the surrounding support communities are just as diverse.
Once DOD determines its required installation composition, it can leverage the framework to identify enduring installations and prioritize limited resources to the most important long-term investments. Such a prioritization requires objective basing criteria to evaluate long-term mission capabilities and physical characteristics that indicate relevance and suitability. These include location consistent with mission, access to ranges, proximity to logistics, expansion potential, cyber capacity, energy opportunity and risk, installation operating costs, environmental and climate change impacts, and level of local support.
DOD’s evaluation cannot stop with just identifying its enduring installations. It also should bucket installations into basing models to shape their future development. As shown in the table above right, the installation enterprise can be broken down into notional models based on the capabilities installations currently generate. Each model offers a tailored solution based on infrastructure resources and environments, allowing DOD to optimally employ its installation weapon systems.
The table also highlights challenges and suggested conditions for using each model. In every case, DOD needs to leverage public-public and public-private partnerships to enhance efficiencies and increase installation capability.
SHAPING THE FUTURE
Disruptive change is difficult, but DOD must align its vast installation enterprise with its long-term force structure strategy to deliberately develop these foundational weapon systems so they remain viable and able to meet future capability requirements.
DOD has well over 20 percent excess infrastructure and the surplus continues to increase. Such excess taxes fiscal resources and restricts DOD’s ability to maintain and modernize installations, even more so as funding levels fall below modelled requirements. This trend must be reversed. BRAC has been a traditional way to manage infrastructure and generate efficiencies, but political stakeholders remain reticent to authorize another round.
DOD should take the initiative to establish a strategic basing plan, maximize its existing authorities to manage capacity, and reestablish an acceptable level of installation funding. Such a plan must outline the end-state for the installation enterprise and identify ways to efficiently manage the installation weapon systems while communicating the costs of excess capacity. DOD can then invest strategically, gaining flexibility to leverage whatever authorities and resources Congress appropriates, and ensure its ability to project military power now and in the future.