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As Equipment Ages, Readiness Suffers, Say DoD Officials

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 6, 2001 – All the military services are facing readiness problems directly tied to allowing aircraft, equipment and infrastructure to age, DoD officials said.

The average age of aircraft, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, ships, light armored vehicles and many other pieces of equipment is increasing. As they age, they become more costly and difficult to repair and maintain.

This is a direct result of a "procurement holiday" the last administration took following the Cold War. "They started drawing down after the Cold War and instead of stopping, they overshot the mark and went way too far," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during an interview with American Forces Press Service. "So, we haven't been buying new equipment. That means the older equipment is getting quite old and when things get old … they sometimes take a lot more time for repairs.

"It just takes longer to get things operable," he continued. "One of the things you can do is buy more and retire the stuff that's costing you more than it ought to. And DoD will do some of that," he said.

Another move might be to change the mix. In aircraft, "if you shifted your weight to some extent toward [unmanned aerial vehicles] you have a different need than with the manned aircraft," Rumsfeld said. "It's conceivable you could retire some things and start dropping the age down and have less repairs. Those decisions will be wrestled with during the Quadrennial Defense Review."

The problem runs across the services. In the Air Force the average age of the air fleet is 22.2 years old. The average age of B-52s is 39 years old. The average age of the B-2 Stealth bomber is 6. In airlift, the average age of C-141 Starlifters is 34 years old. The average age of the C-17 fleet is 4.

In the Navy, the average age of the air fleet is 18 years. This breaks down to 21.1 years old for helicopters and 17.2 years for fixed wing aircraft.

And this will only get worse. DoD officials said the average age of the Air Force air fleet will be 25 years old in fiscal 2007. In fiscal 2010, the average age of Navy F- 14 Tomcats will be 41 years. In fiscal 2021, the Air Force F-15 will be 51 years old and the granddaddy of the Air Force, the B-52, will be 90 years old in 2040. "Clearly, we have to modernize," said a DoD official speaking on background.

Issues with aging military equipment are not limited to air systems. In the Army the "deuce-and-a-half" truck will be 67 years old in fiscal 2017. "When do people trade in their cars – every six or seven years?" asked the official. "These vehicles and systems have the same problems the family car has. There's fatigue and corrosion that you cannot see."

If something breaks on old systems like these, spare parts may be hard to find. "Parts obsolescence is a problem," said the official. "If you have a system designed in the 1950s, it's tough to get parts for it in 2001."

All this increases the time it takes to keep these systems working. "It takes time from operations, it takes time from training, it takes time from other far more important aspects of the mission, said the official. "We need to solve this problem."

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