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Officials Surface Readiness Concerns

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 8, 1998 – The military is ready and fully prepared to execute U.S. national security strategy, but DoD must deal with readiness issues, and soon, said senior defense and military leaders at a Pentagon briefing May 5.

Readiness levels are high in units forward deployed or designated first-to-fight, but other units are not up to historic readiness levels, and these issues must be addressed, they said.

The Air Force is concerned about pilot retention and spare parts. The Navy is concerned about recruiting and equipment readiness. The Army is concentrating on meeting Quadrennial Defense Review fiscal 1999 end-strength numbers and getting money for Bosnia operations in fiscal 1999. The Marine Corps is working on equipment and personnel readiness for Marines returning from deployment and those readying to leave.

"These are dynamic issues," said a senior defense official. "They're not issues that you can put on the shelf and check a box and say that they're resolved. ... They need constant attention, constant focus."

DoD must ensure it provides resources needed to maintain readiness, make sure it collects the right information to monitor readiness, and deals quickly with readiness issues when they are detected, officials said.

Military officials see four readiness building blocks in fiscal 1998 and 1999. The first was passage of the 1998 defense supplemental. This replaced money the department spent on operations in Bosnia and Southwest Asia.

Second is a DoD request that Congress allow the department to reprogram $1 billion into readiness. This money would mostly go to Army and Air Force needs. Defense officials said Congress granted a Navy request for reprogramming in February.

Third is a $1.9 billion request in the president's 1999 DoD budget to fund Bosnia operations. Officials said they are asking that approval not be subject to the balanced budget agreement.

Finally, DoD needs to maintain levels of funding for operations and maintenance in the fiscal 1999 budget request.

The point all the officials made was change needs to happen now so readiness can be maintained in the future. The Air Force, for example, anticipates a shortfall of 1,800 pilots by fiscal 2002. Officials said modernization efforts -- also a key to readiness -- must be stressed because by 2002 more than 75 percent of the planes in the Air Force will be more than 20 years old.

The Navy and Marine Corps have different concerns because of the cyclic nature of their deployments. When a force deploys, they are 100 percent ready. However, when they return and before they deploy again, the service allows readiness to degrade for those units. The gap between the high state of readiness for deployed forces and the levels maintained during training is widening, and this concerns Navy and Marine Corps planners.

In the Army, while readiness rates for the first-to-go units are high, those further down the deployment chain are less ready. This entails some risk for the country, officials said.

The officials stressed, however, that the services are a far cry from the hollow forces of the late 1970s and early 1980s. "When you look around the world, we have the finest equipment, we have the best trained units, we can whip anyone out there," said a senior military official. "This is not a hollow force, and as long as we have the support of Congress and the American people, we're not going to become one either."

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