Readiness on Upswing, Continuing Effort Needed
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 1, 2000 Military readiness is on an upswing due to increased funding in the fiscal 1999 and 2000 defense budgets, senior defense officials say, but more resources are needed to address commanders' concerns.
Readiness concerns "drive the budget more than anything else," said a senior Pentagon official speaking with reporters on background. DoD has added $150 billion to the defense program since the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review, he said, most of which went to personnel, operations and maintenance.
The added funds are having a positive impact on spare parts shortages and other readiness factors, the official said. The Air Force, for example, has put about $2 billion into spare parts over and above its baseline program.
"That doesn't mean we're perfect," or that "there aren't problems," he stressed. "It doesn't mean that we didn't learn things from Kosovo, for example, that we have to address."
DoD officials say that improving readiness further, while preparing for future challenges, requires more attention, time and resources. The military is facing several challenges, the official said. In some cases, in order to man combat units, the Army has pulled cadre from training schools.
"Is it harder to recruit today? You bet," the senior official said. "Are we putting more resources against recruiting? Absolutely. This is a tight labor market. It's amazing that we still are taking literally tens of thousands of young American males and females and bringing them into the armed forces."
DoD's Quarterly Readiness Report to the Congress for April to June 2000 states that America's armed forces remain capable of executing the national military strategy. Defense planning guidance directs the services to maintain certain levels required to execute national strategy. DoD evaluates readiness in three major categories: personnel, training and equipment.
Unit readiness is satisfactory in most cases, the report states, "although some deficient readiness indicators, especially manning and training, are a concern." DoD and service officials have taken active measures to address these issues, but concerns remain about personnel shortages and aging equipment.
The report also highlights "joint readiness" concerns expressed by the commanders in chief regarding their ability to "synchronize and utilize forces to meet theater and national objectives." The CINCs' assessment emphasizes eight areas of strategic concern: command, control, communications and computer deficiencies; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance deficiencies; mobility shortfalls; logistics/sustainment shortfalls; terrorist and weapons of mass destruction challenges; information vulnerabilities; stress on the force from ongoing contingency operations; the ability to quickly disengage from ongoing operations to meet timelines for a two-major theater war scenario.
A classified annex to the report contains details on these concerns and steps DoD is taking to address them.
"Most major combat and key support forces are ready to meet assigned taskings, although there are force readiness and capability shortfalls that increase risk in executing operations," according to the report. "Risk factors for executing ongoing operations and responding to a major theater war are moderate, while the risk for a second major theater war is high."
This risk assessment does not reflect DoD's ability to win a major theater war, but rather its ability to meet the CINCs' timelines for the warfight, it states. "Thus potentially longer timelines required to complete the halt and buildup phases and initiate the counter-offensive increase the potential for higher casualties in the interim and during the warfight."
DoD's latest quarterly report highlights readiness trends affecting the services. While recruiting remains a major concern, for example, each of the services predicts achieving its year-end recruiting goals.
"A lot of the problems we see today -- for example, the pilot shortage in the Air Force -- were fully predicted ten years ago," he said. Rather than break their contract with people in the service, the Air Force elected to cut accessions. These are the "legacy force structures" that we're trying to manage today."
Through increased recruiting efforts today, the services are still attracting sufficient people to man the force. The Army, for example, which exceeded its June goal by 312 recruits, has extended its $50K Army College Fund Program through September. As of May 2000, the Marine Corps had achieved its recruiting goal for 58 consecutive months.
The Navy has increased its recruiting force to 5,000 to improve its delayed entry program and meet its goals. The Air Force, which fell 1,700 recruits short of its fiscal 1999 goal, and was about 2,900 short of its May goal this year, predicts it will meet its fiscal 2000 goal.
Retention is another service concern. The Army predicts continuing success in its retention program. At present, about 60 percent of the Army's eligible first-termers decide to reenlist. "That's what saved us on recruiting numbers last year," the official noted. "We made our end strength because we far exceeded -- by 7,000 -- our reenlistment goal."
The Army's training base attrition is down from a high of 20 percent in November 1998 to 14 percent in June 2000. The Army continues to experience shortages in some critical enlisted skills and at the rank of captain.
The Navy is shifting more resources toward retention this year, the official said. According to the report enlisted retention continues to improve, but remains a concern. Navy manning of its at-sea billets continues to improve for both junior and senior enlisted ranks.
The report notes, however, that the Navy is not retaining officers needed for lieutenant-level (O-3) billets. Nor is the Navy maintaining authorized end strength in all areas. Continuation pay bonuses aimed at retaining aviation and submarine specialists are showing positive results. Surface warfare continuation pay has increased retention; however, projected rates are still less than required.
The Marine Corps is cautiously optimistic about its retention program, the report states. Marine officials aim to reenlist an all-time high of 26 percent of eligible first-term Marines. The Marine Corps continues to face challenges retaining fixed-wing pilots and some high-skill, high-demand, low-density specialties.
Overall officer, first-term and second-term enlisted retention trends continue to challenge the Air Force. "Although the Air Force is short 1,200 active-duty pilots, it has been able to mitigate the impact of some of the shortfall by prioritizing cockpit billets at the expense of staff positions," the report states. Initial indications are encouraging that new compensation incentives will help stem the overall pilot shortfall.
Regarding training and equipment, the report points out the Navy has resumed limited weapons targeting training at the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. DoD has also corrected recent flight safety problems. Air Force officials have completed inspections and repairs on stabilizer trim actuators in the KC-135 fleet. Army officials have completed required safety of flight inspections and repairs for its AH-64 Apache aircraft.
The Army reports equipment readiness is high, but deployment tempo has accelerated wear and tear and increased the need for maintenance. This results in higher maintenance costs, spare parts consumption and demand for maintenance technicians.
The Marine Corps reports ground equipment is ready for operation, but long-term capability to sustain that equipment is degrading due to aging and corrosion. More parts and maintenance time are required to sustain equipment.
The services are now heavily investing in modernization, particularly the aviation fleet. The Army is putting billions into a new brigade structure, acquiring the new Comanche helicopter and upgrading the M1A2 tank, the official said. "We're going to a digitized division," he added. "We are continuing to develop the Crusader system."
So what does this all mean? Are the armed forces ready to carry out their missions?
"This is still a remarkable force," the senior official said. "Just about a year ago, we fought an air war the proportion of a major campaign and we flew well over 38,000 allied sorties with only two planes down."
Operation Allied Force demonstrated the efficiency and productivity of the Air Force, he stressed. "It's a tough business," he said. "They fought a major strategic war and if they had to do it again, then they would do it again."