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American Forces Press Service

Official Calls for 'Radical Changes' in Maintenance, Sustainment

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2011 – Praising the "absolutely phenomenal" way the United States has maintained and sustained its forces on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, a senior defense official said the military needs to do even better.

Budgetary demands and a persistent threat that shows no sign of going away require "radical changes" in how the military maintains an engaged, ready force, John B. Johns, deputy assistant secretary of defense for maintenance policy and programs, told attendees yesterday at this year’s Defense Logistics Conference here.

Johns drew a direct correlation between maintenance and sustainment operations and the combat capability and readiness they drive.

"The ability to conduct deterrence or to shape outcomes associated with our conflicts in the world is driven by what we view in the logistics community," he said. "It is not how much stuff we have, it is how we employ it and how we sustain it."

Yet with the high costs associated with maintenance and sustainment -- second only in the Defense Department budget to manpower costs -- Johns said it's obvious that more cuts are on the way.

"If you haven't felt the pressure yet, then get ready, because it's coming," he told the audience.

Also clear, he said, is that what has worked in the past won't be enough in the future.

"Referring to past success is good ... but not instructive about where we need to go," Johns said. "We are talking about fundamental new levels of efficiency and effectiveness, of agility and flexibility."

That includes a 50-percent reduction in average cycle times, Johns said, and a 25-percent cost reduction by 2020. Even defense activities that already have demonstrated major improvements will have to meet these new levels, he said.

"These are not trivial numbers," Johns acknowledged. "But those are the numbers that are going to get us where we need to be."

And if the department falls short of that goal, "we are exceeding the resources that we are going to have available," he said. "We will not make the warfighting requirements or generate the warfighting capability required if we are not operating at that level of performance."

Johns encouraged leaders within the maintenance and sustainment community to make the hard decisions and encourage innovation to address this challenge. "The change is here, and we can lead and shape it," he said.

But if pressured to take unacceptably large cuts, he urged them to defend the budgets needed to sustain a force that provides credible deterrence and is able to shape the outcomes of conflict or potential conflict.

What's at stake for the United States as the department deals with its fiscal challenges is huge, Johns said.

"If we don't make the right decisions with regard to addressing pressure from a budgetary perspective and pressure generated by the full-spectrum threat, we will make serious mistakes that put this at risk," he said. "And we cannot afford to do that."

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