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Shelton, Chiefs to SASC: Optempo, Limited Funds Erode Readiness

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 1999 – Today's global military commitments, intense operational pace and funding shortfalls are eroding military readiness, the nation's top military officer told Congress Oct. 27.

Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, carried his message to a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on military readiness. The military's four service chiefs also appeared with him.

"Although we've done much in the past year to improve our readiness, there is still much more that needs to be done in order to sustain the momentum," Shelton told the senators. This year, for example, he said, DoD intends to focus on providing quality military health care, another component that affects military readiness.

Overall, he said, the military is applying the kind of corrections needed to get back on track. "Readiness is a very fragile thing," he said. "If lost, it takes considerable time and resources to regain."

America's first-to-fight forces remain capable of executing national military strategy, including the ability to fight and win two nearly simultaneous major theater wars, Shelton said. But because of readiness concerns, military officials assess the risk factors for fighting and winning the first major war as moderate, and for the second as high.

"This does not mean that U.S. forces would not prevail in either contingency," he said. "What it does mean is that it will take longer to respond to hostilities, which in turn means territory lost and an increased potential for casualties."

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki reinforced Shelton's assessment, telling senators there continues to be a "mismatch between what we are asked to do and the resources we have to do it with. To keep our troops trained and ready in the near term, we have accepted risk for several years in other areas."

Shelton reported that overall unit readiness is satisfactory, but some units are faced with declining readiness rates due to aging equipment and parts shortages. Recruiting and retention shortfalls are causing manning and experience gaps in some units, he added.

"While recent funding increases should begin to arrest our most critical readiness declines, the impact of operations in Kosovo will delay the expected recovery of heavily deployed units," the chairman said.

DoD's fiscal 2000 budget does not include the estimated $2 billion required to sustain the cost of U.S. operations in Kosovo, he added. Noting DoD is preparing a request for supplemental appropriations to cover this cost, he asked the committee to give the request high priority to avoid a critical shortfall in the services' operations and maintenance accounts.

Shelton said the administration's commitment to a $112 billion defense spending increase over five years hasn't been locked in. "This increase represents a vital and essential first step that will meet the services' most critical readiness requirements while protecting personnel and procurement priorities," he said. The money is embedded in the military's programs, he added, and progress on readiness would be severely hampered without it.

Across-the-board reductions in all federal programs proposed by some Congress members would be "devastating" to the military, Shelton remarked. "This would strip away the gains that we have made ... to start readiness moving back in the right direction," he said.

Shelton pointed out that while the military has downsized the force by almost 40 percent since the end of the Cold War, the number of military commitments has increased. "We are a very busy force, and I know the members of this committee hear that refrain from the troops wherever you visit them either in the field or in the fleet," he told committee members.

More than 120,000 service members are deployed worldwide supporting exercises, theater engagements, forward presence commitments and 20 ongoing operations, Shelton said. Another 200,000 are permanently stationed in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. "Unless we get a handle on increasing long-term commitments, we will continue to face retention and readiness problems across the force," he said.

Recent efforts to improve pay and the military retirement system may have helped the services turn the corner on retention, but recruiting remains a challenge, the general said. A job-rich economy and an increased trend of high school grads heading straight to college have created the smallest recruiting pool of 18- to 23-year-olds in the history of the all volunteer force, he said.

The services have taken steps to improve recruitment. Despite predictions to the contrary, the Army met its end-strength goal, primarily due to higher retention than expected, according to Shinseki. The general noted that the Army is striving to become more deployable, agile, versatile, lethal, survivable and sustainable. This will require a long-term comprehensive transformation and additional resources over an extended period of time, he said.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jay Johnson noted the Navy met its recruiting goal of 53,000 enlisted sailors this year, but officer recruiting remains problematic. Even though special pays, bonuses and pay enhancements will help retain unrestricted line officers such as aviators and submariners, the Navy hasn't yet contained this major area of concern, Johnson said.

The Air Force has not met its enlisted recruitment goal for two years, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Ryan said. However, he said, the positive reaction he's seen from the field for the pay, bonuses, retirement and quality of life improvements that have begun leads him to believe recruitment and retention curves will turn around.

"The highly technical nature of our force today and in the 21st century requires that we retain highly skilled individuals, particularly our NCOS," Ryan said.

During NATO Operation Allied Force and other global air operations under way at the time, the nation's air forces were "more heavily tasked than at any time over the past four decades, including Desert Storm," Ryan said. Yet this year, he said, 42 percent of the Air Force's eligible pilots have elected to extend their service by up to six years -- a jump from about 25 percent last year.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Jones said the Corps successfully recruits 37,000 young men and women each year and that 68 percent of the corps is always on its first enlistment. Retention goals have been achieved, he said, although certain high-demand, low-density military occupational specialties require special care.

Jones noted that the Corps has endured force cuts since 1991, mostly from combat units -- the Corps' muscle. "In a sense, the shock absorber we previously enjoyed is gone," he said. "While we're still able to meet our missions, the effect on our people and our aging equipment means that more maintenance time is required on both, and the quality of life can be negatively affected."

The Marines are also sacrificing modernization funds for near- term readiness, he said. "This year we deferred $3.6 billion in ground equipment modernization in order to fully fund our readiness," Jones said.

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