Chiefs Testify on Budget Effect on Readiness
By Jim Garamone
National Guard Bureau
WASHINGTON, Jan. 7, 1999 The president's proposed fiscal 2000 defense budget will meet the military's most critical needs, the nation's top military leader told Congress Jan. 5.
Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee and said the proposed budget will add $12 billion to the fiscal 2000 DoD budget and $110 billion through fiscal 2005.
"First, this budget will fully fund our critical readiness requirements," he said. "Second, it will enable us to achieve the procurement goals spelled out in the Quadrennial Defense Review. And third, it will provide the resources needed for essential retirement and compensation reforms."
Shelton called the budget proposal a "major turnaround, following years of decreased spending on defense." Neither he nor the other chiefs would comment on specifics of the president's budget because funding for programs is still under discussion.
While the proposal will meet the most critical needs, Shelton said, it will not satisfy all the requirements the Joint Chiefs of Staff identified to the committee last fall. The chiefs in earlier testimony had said they needed an $18 billion infusion.
Shelton said Congress helped slow a decline in near-term readiness by adding $1.3 billion to DoD fiscal 1999 budget, but the money wasn't a cure-all. He said mission-capable rates for planes are still going down, and the military is still concerned about recruiting and retention trends.
"We continue to grapple with the competing requirements of current readiness, modernization to ensure future readiness, and providing adequate compensation and quality of life for our people," Shelton said.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis Reimer told the senators his most urgent problem is manning the force. The active Army and Army Reserve missed their recruiting objectives in fiscal 1998, and the active Army is behind in fiscal 1999, he said. The National Guard made its objectives, but fell slightly short in two quality indicators, he added.
"That's why the pay and retirement package is so very important," he said. Reimer said he expects the additional funds to be enough to stop the decline in the service's near-term readiness, but "what I don't think will be fixed out of this is modernization -- we'll have to defer on that a little bit more."
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jay Johnson told the senators operations tempo continues at a high level. "Over half our ships are underway, and over a third of them [are] forward-deployed," he said. "The ship number has changed ... [from] 336 in September  -- we're now at 327 ships today."
Deployed readiness, however, continues to be high, he said. "I believe the Navy's performance in Operation Desert Fox was a proud example that the tip of the spear is indeed still very sharp," he said.
Johnson said recruiting and retention continue to be problems, so the pay and retirement package is the most important one to the health of his service.
"We're seeing a significant increase in the number of short-term [enlistment] extensions executed, which means to me that our sailors are taking a wait-and-see attitude before making a career commitment. They want to see what we deliver this year," he said. "We still have to nail down the longer-term recapitalization issues -- those are significant for all of us."
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak said the needs of his service are simple: quality Marines, quality training and quality equipment.
Krulak said chronic budget shortfalls and the costs of maintaining aging equipment and infrastructure have "consumed more and more precious time and scarce resources." He said the Marine Corps has met the challenges posed by these shortfalls, and he is cheered that the administration recognizes the military has readiness concerns and has promised to address them.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Ryan told the senators his service's readiness condition is "very fragile." Aircraft mission capability rates have declined 10 percent over the last nine years, he said.
"The overall readiness measuring the top two readiness categories of the United States Air Force units has declined 15 percent since 1986, and 3 percent of that has occurred since September," Ryan said. "Our cannibalization rate has gone exceedingly high -- 78 percent higher than it was in 1995 -- and much of that has occurred very recently."
Ryan also stressed people problems. In fiscal 1998 -- and for the first time since 1981 -- the Air Force missed its retention goals. Pilot retention continues to decline and planners estimate the Air Force will be 2,000 short by fiscal 2002.
"All our people are looking forward to the actions that we take to provide fair pay and retirement system," he said. "They don't just need it, they deserve it."