- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2001

"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King's Horses and all the King's men, Couldn't put Humpty together again." Nursery rhyme

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten.

In the modern Pentagon equivalent of this children's verse, the King's men hold a lengthy debate with the King's horses on whether to spend money mending Humpty or to forget about the mess at the base of the wall and simply wait a decade or so to research, develop, test, evaluate, build and deploy the Mark II, Mod 3, Humpty 5. Unfortunately, given the state of world affairs, our new president needs a modern, more capable military sooner than the king needed Humpty Dumpty. Unless things change dramatically in Washington, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld has as much of a chance of repairing our ailing military machinery as did "all the king's horses and all the king's men" at patching up the egg that had fallen from the wall.

Last Tuesday, President Bush hadn't even gotten back to the White House from his address to a joint session of Congress, than Democrat horses were lining up to tell the American people that "we just don't have the money" to cut taxes and re-build America's crumbling military infrastructure. Apparently it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Secretary Rumsfeld has the thankless task of determining what kind of military force we need to defend this country and how much it will cost. To his credit, Mr. Rumsfeld has said, "The goal isn't to win the war. The goal is to be so capable of winning a war that you don't have to fight it. You dissuade and deter people from engaging in mischief they otherwise might do." Good enough. But that begs a reality check on just who or what we intend to "dissuade and deter" and just how much we are willing to pay for "mischief prevention."

Those are questions the Clinton-Gore administration never asked, much less answered. As a consequence, during the last eight years, U.S. defense spending as a percentage of GDP decreased from 4.4 percent to 2.9 percent while military personnel and equipment were operationally committed around the world at a rate greater than any time since World War II. These near-continuous "contingency" deployments forced the reallocation of funds earmarked for equipment modernization, readiness, and research and development of future warfighting capabilities to defray the "unexpected" costs of operational commitments. But the problem won't go away just because our new commander in chief orders a cut-back in dubious deployments. The damage has already been done.

The appalling consequences of decisions, dating all the way back to 1993, are evident in every branch of our armed forces. Today, 75 percent of our military's major combat systems (ships, planes, tanks, etc.) have now surpassed the half-life of their expected service, resulting in a 30 percent increase in maintenance costs. Navy, Marine and Air Force fighter aircraft are reaching the end of their expected service life much sooner than anticipated because they are exceeding annual flight hours on repetitive deployments. Navy amphibious ships with an expected service life of 30 to 35 years are on an average, 27 years old. The Navy's unrelenting operational tempo not only wore out its sailors, it had a like effect on its ships. Shipbuilding was cut from 8.7 to 6.5 ships per year to cover increased maintenance and repair costs, making a 300-ship Navy a myth.

Even those few new combat systems that have made it through the thickets of the past eight years have hardly arrived unscathed. The Marine Corps, desperate to replace its over-aged, worn out fleet of CH-46 troop-carrying helicopters, has been counting on delivery of the high-speed, tilt-rotor, V-22 Osprey. Unfortunately, the Marines have been waiting 18 years for this "high-tech" aircraft and they may have to wait longer still. Why? Because in the nearly two decades it has taken to move this aircraft from drawing board to production, it has undergone literally thousands of design changes to accommodate everything from new threats, to new technological developments, to new members of Congress who want a piece of it built in their districts. And now, there are claims that the Marines have been "cooking the books" in order to make the V-22 look better than it is.

Whatever the V-22 is or is not it is at the very least the current poster child for a highly politicized military procurement system, ostensibly designed to prevent fraud and shoddy workmanship, that is hopelessly broken. As such, it joins the long list of defense challenges facing the Bush-Cheney administration. It's time for the barons of bombast up on Capitol Hill to stop throwing verbal grenades at the new commander in chief and to help find solutions quickly. Given what we know and what we don't know about this new world disorder, all the king's men shouldn't have to have to ride horses when the challenge is more formidable than putting Humpty Dumpty together again.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.


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