- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2000

The U.S. military faces an increased risk of more casualties if ordered to carry out the two-war national strategy, a Pentagon report on combat readiness said yesterday.
The midyear write-up on the operational health of the 1.4 million active force said readiness problems and a force stressed by fast-pace peacekeeping operations would encounter greater difficulty fighting a second regional war.
"Potentially longer timelines required to complete the halt and buildup phases and initiate the counteroffensive increase the potential for higher casualties in the interim and during the fight," the report states.
The national military strategy calls for the funding of armed forces capable of fighting and winning two conflicts nearly simultaneously most likely wars to defend South Korea and centrist Persian Gulf countries.
Because of shortages of weapons and personnel, U.S. forces would be slower in responding to the second crisis, giving an enemy more time to consolidate gains.
The report is a general overview, with few specifics. For example, it makes no mention of the fact that 12 of 20 major Army training installations reported a C-4 readiness rating, the military's lowest. The Washington Times reported this week that the installations teach such critical combat skills as infantry, air defense, artillery and intelligence.
The Pentagon assessment comes as the readiness of American forces has emerged as a top issue in the presidential race.
Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush charges that President Clinton cut the military too deeply in the 1990s as he sent fighting men and women on a record number of overseas deployments in Europe, the Persian Gulf and other locations. The result: worn-out equipment and personnel, spare-parts shortages and problems recruiting and retaining personnel.
"Our military today is overused and under-resourced," Republican vice-presidential candidate Richard B. Cheney said in a speech on Wednesday.
Mr. Cheney was defense secretary when the Cold War ended and the Pentagon drawdown began. When Mr. Clinton took office in 1993, he proceeded to double cuts proposed by Mr. Cheney, to $128 billion over five years.
Vice President Al Gore counters that the U.S. military remains the world's finest and that increased funding the past two years is correcting problems.
Evidence of a declining force began to surface in the mid-1990s and was publicly acknowledged by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1998. The Pentagon says "tip of the spear" forces overseas remain sharp. But they acknowledge serious shortfalls in stateside units that would move out quickly if war broke out.
Navy pilots, for example, complain that aircraft are cannibalized for parts for carrier operations, cutting down on their realistic flight training.
The Pentagon report said extra funding enacted by President Clinton and Congress has resulted in improved readiness. After missing recruiting targets, the Army and Navy are meeting goals this year. The Army has lowered the boot-camp dropout rate from 20 percent to 14 percent.
Among concerns:
High rates of overseas operations have "accelerated wear and tear on the Army's equipment and has increased the required level of maintenance effort."
The Navy is not retaining enough midgrade officers and has a shortage of deployed seamen.
The Air Force is missing its recruiting benchmark for the first time since 1979 and is short 1,200 pilots.
The Pentagon report reflects a general discussion of readiness. A more expansive classified report was submitted to Congress.
The report's section on the Air Force does not mention, for example, that the Air Force continues to battle declining readiness rates for its major weapons systems, such as fighters and bombers. Also, the rate at which it cannibalizes parts from one plane to keep another flying has increased significantly.
The report says "most" major combat units are ready to meet objectives in a two-war scenario, but does not say which units are not ready.
The Pentagon concludes: "A review of overall force readiness confirms that America's armed forces remain capable of executing the national military strategy. Overall unit readiness is satisfactory in most cases, although some deficient readiness indicators, especially manning and training, are a concern."

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