Monday, April 9, 2007

U.S. Military Equipment Shortfalls a "Disaster"

Retired Major General Robert Scales has addressed the equipment shortfalls now being experienced by our military, which he describes as a disaster:

Most Army brigades are "not combat ready" in part because of equipment shortages. Brigades consist of people and equipment, so the significance of "not combat ready" loses a great deal in translation. . . The bottom line is that virtually any brigade not in Iraq cannot be equipped for war for a very, very long time.

While the true magnitude of the Army's equipment disaster remains clouded in classification, the anecdotal evidence of impending collapse is anywhere you choose to look. For the first time in nearly half a century the 82nd Airborne Division cannot generate enough combat power to put one of its brigades on strategic alert. A retired general friend visited a division at a very large post that has only 30 of its 240 tanks in working order. One general who daily works on equipment issues in the Pentagon reflected on the past: "Remember, after the collapse of the Soviet Union how the Russians left mountains of junked equipment to rust away in Eastern European motor pools? Well, we're nearly there now."

The Army will continue to wear out its equipment at prodigious rates. The pace of this decline is painful to watch. Usage rates for tanks during peacetime are about 550 miles per tank per year. Today in Iraq tanks average over 5,000 miles per year. At these rates the Army will have no choice but to virtually rebuild itself after Iraq.

How did the richest nation on the planet allow its Army to reach this condition? The answer is simply that for half a century every administration has continued the habit of undermanning and underequipping land forces, . . .

. . . The Army went into this war $56 billion short of equipment inside its deployed brigades and was suffering from a $44 billion deficit in delayed or cancelled programs for new weapons and equipment. Now the Army must restock. There are two choices, one cheap, one right. The cheap solution would be to repair the mountain of Cold War fighting gear that served the Army so well in the Gulf War and put it back into action for the next generation.

But cheap won't work because our Cold War fleet was designed to fight on the plains of Europe in huge tank-on-tank engagements against the Soviets. The heavily armored behemoths necessary for this style of war are not suitable for fighting the "long war." Yesterday's tank weighs more than 70 tons. It cannot move great distances. It consumes a huge amount of fuel that must be transported by vulnerable unarmored convoys from Kuwait to Baghdad. It cannot be easily transported by air. And it takes a multitude of repairmen -- many of them civilian contractors -- and a huge base infrastructure to keep it running in the punishing heat and dust of Iraq.

We have learned from painful experience in Iraq and Afghanistan that tomorrow's ground forces must be re-equipped with many more fighting vehicles that are light, mobile, easily transported and capable of keeping more soldiers protected for longer periods. Properly equipping the Army to win the long war will be very expensive. But we have fought 12 wars in the last 30 years and all but one has been decided on the ground. We will fight another one sooner than any of us would like. If we are to break the cycle of underfunding followed by rapid re-funding that has caused so much human tragedy, we must start now and must build a new Army for tomorrow rather than put yesterday's Army back on the shelf.
Read the entire article here. This is at once a disgrace and a crisis. Our military was allowed to truly atrophy in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union - the much vaunted peace divided. Indeed, we are now involved in two wars with a third possible in Iran, yet we have the smallest military since World War II. And there is blame to go around here. While it is beyond doubt that the underfunding of our military spans generations, the fact is that we had six years of a wartime Republican administration that reveled in record levels of domestic pork barrel spending, yet nowhere near enough attention paid to our military. This is unconscionable.

And now we have Democrats such as Jack Murtha who, rather then fix the problem, seek instead to use the problem as a basis for withdrawal from Iraq. Indeed, it would seem a significant amount of funds that could have been used to fix this problem were diverted to pork to buy the votes necessary to legislate that withdrawal - something equally unconscionable. The only way this problem will be fixed is if it sees the light of day. Bush nor any of the elected Republicans have raised this issue with any force. Bush needs to make a public mea culpa on his administrations responsibility for this problem and outline what funds the Congress needs to authorize to fix it -- or, in other words, what is the price tag to "support the troops." Allowing this problem to fester is nonsensical and, in the not too distant future, a sure recipe for disaster.

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