- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007

During the Cold War the Army stockpiled thousands of weapons and vehicles in warehouses or aboard huge cargo ships in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. These trucks, humvees, tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers constituted our national reserve of weaponry. Soldiers depend on this equipment should we go to war against an enemy outside Iraq and Afghanistan. Except for one brigade set in Korea, it’s all gone. We emptied the last set in March. In total, nearly half of the Army’s fighting equipment is wearing away in Iraq and Afghanistan or waiting forlornly for repair or disposal. Unclassified sources put the total number of broken or destroyed wheels, tracks and rotors at about 6,000.

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. If an unready brigade were a ship it would be in dry dock. If it were an aircraft it would be undergoing a complete stripdown and overhaul. Virtually all of our reserve brigades and most of the Army’s regular brigades outside of Iraq and Afghanistan fit into this category. 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, following this with a frenetic period of rapid re-funding to catch up with conditions on the battlefield. During World War II Gen. George C. Marshall understood this phenomenon very well when he observed that “in peacetime I had plenty of time and no money. In war I had plenty of money and no time.”

Nothing has changed. 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.

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales is a former commander of the Army War College.

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