Testimony of Admiral Kelso (USN, Ret.)
House National Security Committee
7 October 1998
Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of this committee, I hope that my appearance here today will assist you in your most important work. I am flattered that you have asked an antique service chief to express his views.
The topic of military readiness has been in the news and discussed at the highest levels of the military establishment over the past several days. It is doubtful that I can add much to this issue, as I certainly do not possess first hand knowledge of the state of readiness of today's military forces. I am however, not surprised that we are reaching a period when our readiness is degrading. The military budget has been level for several years and under these conditions the accounts which control the state of readiness will generally decline in buying power. We have chosen to increase pay, the cost of goods and services generally rise. Do not misunderstand me, I believe pay should have been raised and perhaps even more than was done. Additionally, our forces have been assigned missions, which tax their readiness to the limit. Deployments have not decreased. They are actually increasing. Therefore readiness suffers in those units not deployed to pay for the increased deployments. The point I am trying to make is that these actions reduce monies available for the readiness accounts and have been doing so for several years now. Hence, with relatively static force levels readiness has degraded.
Readiness has always been difficult to measure and often has degraded before it is clearly recognized. In most areas the measurement is subjective and dependent upon the view of every level in the chain of command. In the navy, we insure that deploying forces have what is needed at the expense of those who remain in a non-deployed status. When overall readiness is slightly degraded this is not so noticeable. In time, cannibalizations, lower level of spare parts and stocks start to become more noticeable. Money for non-deployed flying hours, ship training days slowly decrease. These latter two become very noticeable because they lower training proficiency which officers and sailors clearly recognize. Pilot retention has traditionally degraded when pilot-flying training has been reduced.
When monies are short we sometimes make decisions for the short term that cause later reductions in readiness. I suspect some of this has been seen as required over these past few years.
It is hard to foresee issues like recruiting reductions, but I suspect each of us had a worry that this would be a difficult problem during this period. The only way to fix this problem is to put more recruiters in the field. But to do this requires the selection and training of more recruiters, which takes significant time. We have learned the hard lessons that deploying untrained recruiters is counterproductive.
Young unit commanders are reluctant to complain about readiness until it really gets bad. Military leaders are seldom rewarded for complaining or whining. Hence, the problem does not rise quickly. I work as a Senior Fellow at the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk. The discussions about degraded readiness have steadily risen over the past two years. The mid grade officers clearly feel that there are readiness problems.
This has also been a particularly difficult time to recognize when readiness was going to degrade as we are coming out of a period of downsizing. I believe a period of fairly level force size was required to know when the problem was downsizing fallout or readiness degradations. As force sizes are, I hope, fairly fixed the problems with readiness become much clearer.
I do not believe we can afford to reduce force size further. We are taxing the limits of our people with the force sizes we currently are operating. I must tell you that I believe force size will continue to degrade in the same fashion that is occurring with readiness. For the navy we are building less ships and aircraft than required to maintain current force levels. In fact, we are building a funding requirement for the future that will generate a budget size that grows continually each year. We are not addressing this shortfall. The shortfall encompasses all of our services.
I believe that readiness can be fixed, but it will take more money in these accounts now than we are currently providing. The force structure problems will tax this nation and require some difficult political decisions to resolve.