- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

As U.S. forces increase their operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army’s reliance on its overstretched active-duty forces and the National Guard will intensify. That will occur amid an equipment crisis, which has inexplicably been permitted to worsen in recent years as the Pentagon and the White House repeatedly reduced the equipment funding requested by the Army. The Bush administration’s solution to this grave problem — a “solution” that stretches well beyond 2013 — is inadequate.

“To bring the national Army and Air Guard up to an acceptable level of readiness, and I’m talking about 80 percent of the equipment authorized on hand,” Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves on Jan. 31, “it would cost $40 billion.” On Feb. 14, Rep. Duncan Hunter, the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, expressed concern over “an unfunded [equipment] requirement of $24 billion” for the National Guard. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing a week earlier, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed the overall equipment situation for the active-duty Army, the National Guard and the Reserve. “We have about 40 percent of our inventory of equipment either currently deployed or in the depots for repair,” Gen. Pace told the committee. “That means almost by definition, then, that the units that are home are going to have about 60 percent or less of their equipment.”

The administration has floated a multi-year (2007-13) plan, which, it admits, fails to solve the problem. Thus, after inheriting a peacetime equipment problem, the Bush administration allowed it to develop into a wartime crisis. Then it proposed an inadequate seven-year plan, which stretches beyond the four-year term of the next administration. “If you look at the budgets over the last number of years, up to fiscal year 2013,” Army Secretary Francis Harvey recently testified, “we have a total of $156 billion in the equipment realm to close many of the things you hear about in terms of the National Guard and Reserves.” Many? At the same hearing, retiring Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker addressed the post-2013 situation. “If you look beyond 2013, there are approximately — our estimation is approximately $52 billion of additional equipment required to totally complete the Army’s equipage package, active, Guard and Reserve.” Gen. Schoomaker acknowledged that the $24 billion unfunded equipment requirement for the National Guard, which understandably concerned Rep. Hunter, was part of this $52 billion, which will not be spent by 2013, if ever.

“This budget… although substantial, is only getting us part way by 2013,” Gen. Schoomaker said Feb. 15. “And if we want to do something smart, we would try to accelerate some of that [$52 billion] stuff outside this [2007-2013] program at some point into this program, and get ahead of it.” At a bare minimum, that’s the smart move to make.

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