The Clinton administration is misleading voters on the issue of
current U.S. military readiness, according to a non-partisan public
policy organization that has researched news media reports throughout
the year detailing poor military readiness in all branches of service.
The Washington, D.C.-based
Center for Military Readiness, in its September newsletter, published a compilation of military and "mainstream press reports indicating the Clinton-Gore administration's proclamations that U.S. military forces are currently in a high state of readiness may be false.
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Noting that "some situations may have changed" since the initial reports were written, CMR stated that "new ones are reported daily and, "taken as a whole, the headlines chronicle a worrisome trend of problems that must be addressed by the next commander in chief.
Besides established press sources and newspapers, CMR said, some of the military's own publications have also detailed problems ranging from troops being outfitted with obsolete gear to poorly trained aviators unable to hit targets during NATO's 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia last year.
"Active-duty servicemen have told me that they are contemplating resignation, pending the outcome of the presidential election,
CMR president Elaine Donnelly said. "These are the people who defend this country, and in a volunteer force, they can vote with their feet.
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Here is a compendium of recent stories researched by CMR that document serious readiness problems within the U.S. military:
- On Nov. 10, 1999, the New York Times reported that two entire Army divisions -- the 10th Mountain Division and the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division, based respectively at Ft. Drum, N.Y., and in Germany, had received classifications of "C-4, the lowest ranking for overall readiness. At the time of the report, none of the Army's 10 divisions were ranked C-1 -- the highest ranking possible.
- On Aug. 29, the Washington Times reported that, according to a classified report the paper obtained, 12 of the Army's 20 combat and support training centers had also received C-4 readiness classifications.
- The poor state of training readiness prompted Maj. Gen. Tony Strickland, commander of the Army Field Artillery School at Ft. Sill, Okla., to write: "In the three-year period since the time I was assistant commandant to now, I have never seen a resource picture so bleak. ... Let me clearly state the U.S. Army Field Artillery School is nearing an unready state for training artillery soldiers.
In addition to the field artillery school, ratings of C-4 were also given to training in air defense, aviation (including helicopters), chemical weapons, combined arms, engineering, finance, infantry, intelligence, military police, communications/signal corps and transportation. Higher C-3 ratings were earned by armor, basic combat, language, ordnance, quartermaster and Warrant Officer Career Center training units. Only the JFK Special Warfare and Chaplain units were rated a higher C-2.
- The Army Times also reported on the training center readiness deficiencies Sept. 11.
- The Army Times, on July 5, 1999, published a "lessons learned e-mail memo from Brig. Gen. Richard Cody -- commander of Task Force Hawk in Kosovo -- to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, stating that Apache helicopter missions last year were hampered by shortages of pilots and warrant officers. The memo was not intended for public consumption. It said while aviation officers and soldiers performed superbly under tough conditions, the unit's first three weeks in theater were "painful and high risk.
Of the available pilots, 65 percent had less than 500 hours of flight training in an Apache; in the co-pilot/gunner position, no one was qualified to use night-vision goggles. In his message, Cody noted, "Across the Army, we are seeing the results of many years of declining resources and resource constraints, in terms of funds for training and equipment.
- On April 4, CNN reported that 40 percent of the Army's helicopter fleet was not combat-ready. The CNN report, citing an Army document, said, "Clearly aviation is headed in the wrong direction, adding that a plan for modernization of the entire Army aviation fleet found "just over 40 percent of the rotary wing is 'red' in terms of age and war-fighting capability. "Red ratings, the Army report said, were defined as "cannot perform mission and/or high risk.
- On Aug. 30, the San Diego Union Tribune reported that infantry sergeants in the 10th Mountain Division were still waiting on lightweight combat gear promised in 1998, and that many other soldiers were using second- and third-rate "hand-me-down gear so ancient that [some of it] is actually on display at the National Infantry Museum at Ft. Benning, Ga., along with swords and suits of armor. Some soldiers, convinced they would never get issued new gear, had bought their own. According to a recent General Accounting Office report, the Army had lost about $1 billion worth of gear in 1998.
- On Sept. 5, CBS News reported that a recent internal report by the Navy's inspector general -- which was completed in April -- found that chronic funding shortages are hurting the combat performance of naval aviators. Carrier air wings have had to deploy without sufficient training, and as a result, "[laser bomb] strike success rates in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia [are] far below those that should be achievable.
The same report found that laser-guided bombs are in such short supply that most Navy pilots first drop them in actual combat.
- On April 30, 1999, the Washington Post reported Air Force Gen. Richard Hawley, head of the Air Combat Command, said the Air Force was so strained by the Kosovo air war that the service would be hard-pressed to handle a second conflict in the Middle East or Korea. Hawley said the accelerated air campaign would increase shortages of aircraft and experienced crews in the U.S. On May 17, 1999, the Air Force Times reported that five weeks of bombing in Yugoslavia left U.S. munitions stocks "critically short of air-launched cruise missiles and satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions, the latter of which is dropped by B-2 Stealth bombers. A separate House Armed Services Committee report found that a stockpile of 250 conventional cruise missiles fell to just 80 following heavy air strikes in Iraq and Serbia, causing Congress to approve $51.5 million in emergency funding to convert 95 nuclear missiles into weapons fitted with conventional warheads.
- On Feb. 21, the Washington Times carried excerpts of a report written by a senior Senate defense staff member that said: "At our premier air combat training facilities, we have too few instructor pilots, too few aircraft for them to fly, and old -- sometimes structurally failing -- aircraft.
Though Defense Secretary William Cohen had assured Congress that the problem had been taken care of, the staffer said he found that no new money had trickled down to the two desert air combat training bases he visited to research his report -- one at the Air Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base and the other at the Navy's Top Gun School at Fallon Naval Air Station in Nevada. Because some suppliers are no longer in the defense-supply business, new spare parts often take 18 months or longer to arrive, meaning airplanes must be cannibalized to fix others that are assigned frontline duty.
- On Aug. 28, Reuters reported that the Marine Corps had announced a temporary halt of all flights involving three different types of aircraft. The aircraft included the new VF-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, grounded for safety inspections; 76 Harrier fighter jets, grounded for maintenance problems; and all Sea Stallion transport helicopters and A-1W Cobra attack helicopters, grounded for rotor problems and maintenance trouble. Some of the Cobras date back to the 1960s and the Vietnam war, and the Osprey is still about a decade away from reaching full operational capacity.
Though the readiness problems have persistently been in the news, some defense experts still don't see much hope for change anytime soon, especially if Vice President Al Gore wins the fall election.
"Drastic force reductions, combined with stepped up deployments, are wearing out people and equipment in all branches of the service, Donelly said.
"On the issue of national defense, let the debate continue" among the presidential candidates and the American people, she added.
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