House study finds readiness of military at 'breaking point' Budget cuts combine with new duties to exhaust resources

April 09, 1997|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Navy fighter jets are being "cannibalized" of parts to help serve peacekeeping missions. Tight budgets hamper Air Force training. Soldiers and Marines used in humanitarian missions are losing their battle edge.

These are among the dismal assessments of military readiness after a seven-month study by the House National Security Committee. The committee's staff traveled to dozens of bases in the United States and Europe and interviewed hundreds of military personnel and their families.

The report, scheduled for release today, asserts that the military is being "stretched to the breaking point," squeezed between cutbacks and increased humanitarian and peacekeeping missions. A copy of the report was obtained by The Sun.

Rep. Floyd D. Spence, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the committee, said in the report that the ability of the military to be equipped and adequately trained to fight a major war is in question.

"Despite the repeated assurances of senior administration officials, the readiness of our armed forces is suffering," Spence said in the report. "The results of the review are very sobering."

The report conflicts with the Pentagon's own generally upbeat view of preparedness. The military's top officer, Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the services last fall as being "as ready as we've ever been."

Among the findings of the House report:

Those in the shrinking military -- whose numbers dropped from 2 million personnel in 1990 to 1.5 million this year -- are working harder and longer and are being asked to "do more with less." These trends are having a troubling effect on family life.

The quantity and quality of combat training, particularly for tomorrow's high-intensity wars, are being compromised.

Military equipment is aging prematurely because of extended use and reduced maintenance.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Air Force Maj. Monica Aloisio, said that Defense Department officials had yet to see the House report. But she said the issue of military readiness was being closely studied as part of a four-year Defense Department review, set for completion next month, that will determine the size, structure and role of the military.

The House report said it hoped the Pentagon review would not rely on "faulty assumptions," such as that the military can commit to peacekeeping missions and still meet its goal of being able to fight two regional wars simultaneously, given staff and funding levels.

The Pentagon maintains that it is managing to its post-Cold War reduction-in-force levels while still being prepared for any military operations. Even so, commanders in the field are concerned about a number of areas, said Maj. Gen. David L. Grange, the Army's director of military operations, mobilization and readiness.

"We're under-manned," Grange said, noting that while the Army's total force has dropped 35 percent since 1989, to 495,000 soldiers, its operational responsibilities have risen sharply. Between 1950 and 1989, the Army had 10 major missions. Since 1989, there have been 25 such missions.

An Army captain at Fort Hood in Texas told the committee that demands for peacekeeping and humanitarian missions keep troops from performing well in high-intensity combat training.

"Had we had to have gone directly into combat from here, we would have paid for learning those lessons in blood," said the captain, who was not identified.

"We can't do more with less," concluded Vice Adm. John Mazach, commander of the Naval Air Force Atlantic, who said he was robbing some squadrons to assure parts and maintenance for others, according to the report.

Officers and enlisted men wonder whether the services will be able to keep and attract trained personnel, judging from relatively low pay scales and longer hours. A typical private at Fort Hood, for example, earns $1,627 after taxes each month, although the average cost of living in the area is estimated at $1,610 a month.

Some analysts are less troubled by the issue of readiness. Steven M. Kosiak, senior budget analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent research institute, said the readiness of the military now is closer to that of the Persian Gulf war era than to the "hollow force" years after Vietnam.

He conceded that a smaller military must contend with more and longer operations, such as those in Haiti and Bosnia, rather than the previously more typical "in-and-out" missions, such as Grenada.

But the Clinton administration, Kosiak said, is devoting more money in the Pentagon budget to operations and maintenance in an effort to address the problem.

"It's a complicated issue and one I think the administration deserves credit for," he said. "This is something the administration is watching closely."

Pub Date: 4/09/97

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