March 14th, 2007 13:57 EST
Capitol Hill Hearings on Military Readiness
The armed services’ four vice chiefs of staff discussed challenges that affect military readiness at a U.S. House of Representatives’ subcommittee hearing held here yesterday.
“The fundamental challenge impacting Army readiness and strategic depth is the need to establish a proper balance between strategy and resources,” Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army’s vice chief of staff, stated in prepared remarks given to the House Armed Services Committee’s Readiness Subcommittee.
America’s soldiers “are the best trained, best equipped, and best led we have ever sent into combat,” Cody said, noting that more than 240,000 U.S. soldiers are deployed overseas.
Congressional funding will enable the fielding of 76 brigade combat teams, of which 20 to 21 will be made ready and available to meet global commitments, Cody said.
However, the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in $100 billion in underfunding of Army investment accounts during the 1990s, Cody noted, which in turn created a nearly $56 billion equipment shortage across the Army.
And now, force needs dictated by the global war against terrorism have compelled the Army to transfer equipment from non-deployed elements to units preparing to deploy overseas, Cody explained.
“This practice, which we are continuing today, increases risk for our next-to-deploy units, and limits our ability to respond to emerging strategic contingencies,” Cody said.
Army leaders, however, “are greatly encouraged” by the recent actions of Congress, the president and the secretary of defense to provide more money so the Army can rectify its equipment shortage, Cody said.
The Air Force’s primary missions are to assist in the winning of the global war against terrorism and to prepare for possible future conflicts, said Gen. John D.W. Corley, Air Force vice chief of staff.
However, “each day, the readiness of both our airmen and our equipment is eroding,” Corley stated. Increased flying hours are stressing airframes, he said, while the cost of doing the Air Force’s business is going up. The cost of aircraft spare parts has increased 6 percent this year, Corley noted, while each $10 increase in the price of a barrel of fuel costs the Air Force another $600 million annually.
“The added wear and tear (on aircraft) is fueling the increased demand for spare parts, creating a vicious cycle, providing a further mandate to recapitalize the force,” the four-star Air Force general stated.
The Air Force appreciates current congressional funding assistance to reconstitute its air fleet, Corley said, but more money is urgently needed “so we can execute a synchronized plan for aircraft retirement, replacement and modernization,” he stated.
The Marine Corps’ priority is to support those Marines deployed worldwide who are fighting the war against terrorism, stated Gen. Robert Magnus, the Corps’ assistant commandant.
However, “to meet the demands of the Long War, we must reset the force in order to simultaneously fight, train, and sustain our Corps,” Magnus said. Like the Army, the Marines, too, have transferred equipment from non-deployed units to combat units slated for overseas deployment, he said.
Marine equipment stocks “need to be replenished to remain responsive to emerging threats,” Magnus said, noting that repeated deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq have caused Marine ground and aviation equipment to take a pounding.
Magnus thanked Congress for its fiscal support, noting that funding legislation has enabled the Marine Corps to achieve equipment reset goals through increased depot repair activities and new purchasing. Congressional money, he noted, will provide for an expanded active force of more than 200,000 Marines in the future.
“I promise you that the Corps understands the value of each dollar provided and will continue to provide maximum return for every dollar spent,” Magnus said.
Last year, the U.S. Navy continued to answer the nation’s call to duty, while remaining a good steward of U.S. taxpayer dollars, Adm. Robert F. Willard, vice chief of naval operations, stated.
Today, the “Navy’s current readiness remains excellent,” Willard said, noting congressional monetary support has been key in this regard. Navy units and sailors, he said, continue to “deploy combat-ready, properly trained and properly equipped.”
In early March the Navy had 36 percent of its fleet on deployment in every theater of operation, with 138 ships en route to global assignments, Willard noted. Those include six aircraft carriers and four of the Navy’s large-deck amphibious ships, he said.
The Navy’s fiscal 2006 budget request funds a deployable battle force of 286 ships, Willard said, including 11 aircraft carriers and 32 amphibious ships.
Past congressional supplemental funding has enabled the Navy to mitigate some of the costs of wartime operations, the admiral said. However, he noted, those funds were used to offset war-incurred costs rather than resetting the force. About $2.1 billion has been earmarked in the Navy’s fiscal 2008 budget request for Navy equipment reset requirements.
“While overall Navy current readiness remains excellent, one challenge we face today is to sustain our present capability and enhance our ability to conduct non-traditional missions in order to ensure continuity in the projection of naval power and influence,” the admiral said.
Also, higher operational tempo experienced by the Navy during the global war on terrorism has incurred increased operating costs, Willard said.
“Longer-term impacts are under close evaluation, but ships, aircraft and ground equipment returning from the war will require depot-level attention to remain responsive to emerging threats,” Willard stated.
The Navy provides great bang for each dollar, the admiral stated, noting it costs taxpayers less than 1 percent of the nation’s gross national product to support.
Yet, although today’s Navy is ship-shape, “we must maintain our resolve to sustain a strong Navy now and ensure future successes after they return home,” Willard stated.
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service