- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2001

Top military officers have expressed concern that an excessive number of military cargo planes were required to take former President Clinton and his large entourage last year to India, Vietnam and other distant places.
These officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Air Force Air Mobility Command's ability was perilously stretched to supply airlifts for exercises, as well as troop deployments in the Persian Gulf, South Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo and South Korea.
Unofficial internal estimates show that Mr. Clinton's trip to Vietnam in November cost the military about $60 million. Air Force Air Mobility Command deployed 26 C-5, 33 C-17 and 4 C-141 cargo jets as well as 10 refueling tanker aircraft and one C-130 propeller jet. Estimated costs for Mr. Clinton's trip last March to India and Pakistan ranged from $25 million to $50 million.
One Marine officer said the number of planes required to support Air Force One, code name for the Boeing 747 carrying the president, strained a recent exercise.
"We are in the midst of exercising one of our regularly scheduled incremental training exercises with the [South Korean military]," said the officer. "Unfortunately, the nonavailability of lift in the theater has severely retarded the deployment of a single reinforced infantry battalion… . It seems most of the available [strategic] lift is tied up with a president of the U.S. event."
Another officer told of special operations commanders redrafting contingency plans for getting troops overseas in the event that at the same time the president was traveling overseas.
The Air Force, following established policy, referred presidential travel questions to the White House. A Bush spokeswoman declined to comment.
P.J. Crowley, a retired Air Force officer and former Clinton White House spokesman, defended the need for a large air armada to accompany the president to distant destinations. He said the Air Force and Secret Service not the president dictate aircraft requirements based on the travel itinerary, air field availability and threat assessment.
"The logistics are actually driven by the Secret Service in terms of what the security requirements are," Mr. Crowley said. "When the president travels, we're going to bring our own planes, our own helicopters and our own vehicles. These are requirements so the president can travel safely and has the ability to communicate with his government any place he goes in the world. This is not a question of luxury. It's a question of security."
However, Mr. Crowley said, "I know there have been concerns expressed in military circles about the cost of travel, but the trips to India and Africa and Vietnam were both historic in nature and reflective of the need of the Untied States to engage in a part of the world we need to improve relations with. And each of those trips will pay huge dividends for the United States in the long term."
It's not only presidential trips and peacekeeping that strain airlift capabilities. The Air Force's aircraft mission-capable rates have declined 10 percent in 10 years. This means no more than 75 percent of the fleet is able to fly as grounded aircraft await spare parts or maintenance.
"Both of these components," Gen. Michael Ryan, Air Force chief of staff, told Congress last year, "have contributed to our current concern and one of the primary reasons is the average age of our current aircraft fleet. It's now almost 22 years old."
One of the oldest is the C-5 Galaxy, a giant fuel-guzzling cargo jet wide enough to ferry tanks, armored vehicles, trucks and troops to overseas deployments. Its combined mission-capable rate for 126 active, Guard and Reserve jets last year was below 60 percent.
However, new cargo jets have been trickling in. The Air Force has 70 operational C-17s, about half the total purchase of 130 of the jets .
In a statement to The Washington Times, Air Mobility Command said, "The primary limitations to our airlift capability are too few C-17s …; the retirement of the C-141, which gives us fewer airframes to operate and reduces our flexibility; poor C-5 reliability, which has hampered our largest airlifter; and a need to invest in en route infrastructure… . It is clear that the combination of increased operations tempo and missions around the world, combined with declines in force structure, have significantly increased operational challenges for Air Mobility Command."
A military source told The Times that the average number of aircraft missions each month increased from 76 in 1992 to 140 in the first eight months of 2000. During the time that Vice President Al Gore was running for president, Hillary Rodham Clinton was campaigning for the U.S. Senate and Mr. Clinton was visiting India, Pakistan and Russia.
"The reason is Clinton, Hillary and Gore," the source said. "It just blows my mind."
When the president travels to developing countries, the Secret Service puts on quite a show, with limousines, rugged sports utility vehicles and helicopters. The White House communications office takes along sophisticated electronic equipment to enable the president to conduct secure conversations. Hundreds of support staffers are taken along.
Responding to charges that Mr. Clinton's presidential trips abroad were financially excessive and wasted taxpayer dollars, Mr. Crowley said, "This is entirely a red herring because when you're reaching out to countries that do not have anything approaching the infrastructure you would have in Europe, for example, you're always going to have to take whatever you need with you.
"Any time you're going to have a trip with multiple stops to developing countries and at great distances, the bill is going to be higher."

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