1998 Congressional Hearings



ON OCTOBER 7, 1998

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the readiness of our armed forces with you today and I commend you for taking the time to address this very serious issue facing our nation. As a former Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force who has watched the readiness problem grow, I hope to provide some background and place in context the decline in readiness that the United States military is experiencing today. I want to say up front that these are strictly my personal views of the readiness situation as it affects the Air Force.

Military Readiness - What It Is

Let me begin by trying to define readiness to provide you a working context. American military readiness is complex and fragile and made up of a number of interrelated areas. I believe readiness is the combination of the current status in equipment, maintenance, training, logistics, and people; together with quality of life programs to take care of our people; and finally, future readiness or modernization. The challenge is to keep these elements in balance.

When a single area is short of resources - time, money, people, equipment, etc. - other areas are usually able to compensate for the deficiency, ensuring readiness remains high. This is especially true if the system is elastic; i.e. it has enough resources and flexibility to move those resources among the various areas. (This ability to compensate may in fact end up masking a deficiency in a certain area, especially if human resources are being used.) However, when this compensation happens, resources are generally used up faster in the other areas, which can, if not replenished soon enough, result in deficiencies in multiple accounts. These multiple deficiencies then combine in a negative synergistic way to produce a decline in overall readiness. That is where the Air Force is today. The Air Force cannot maintain this balance and hence, is in a position of managing shortfalls.

Another factor that affects readiness is the frequency, duration, and intensity in which our military is employed. If employed relatively infrequently, such as during the 1980s, the military is not as stressed and the system has time to recover. If used more often and for extended periods, as we have done in the 1990s, the situation is exacerbated, and without timely infusion of resources in the right places, readiness can quickly decline.

How We Got Here

I believe that the decline in readiness that we are seeing today is the result of several factors: reductions in force structure and personnel; overseas commitments which have not declined as expected; reductions in the budget; an increasingly limited ability to apply resources where needed; and, the effects of a very healthy national economy.

As you know, during the first five years after the Cold War, the military drew down its force structure and personnel in the American tradition. Since 1990, we have reduced the budget by 34% in real dollars and reduced the number of people in Air Force uniform by 33%. Because it takes longer to reduce people than it does to reduce force structure, we had some excess resources that acted as shock absorbers when contingencies occurred. By 1995 however, the force structure and personnel reductions had almost ceased, yet the budget still continued to decline in real dollars.

In contrast, the operations tempo had increased significantly. While we had lost one-third of our people, ironically we had experienced a four-fold increase in the number of overseas commitments. That mismatch is bad enough; but in addition, the contingencies have been long-term. For example, the Air Force began support of Operation Provide Comfort/ Northern Watch in the Spring of 1991, Operation Southern Watch in the Fall of 1992, and Bosnia operations in late 1995. Today we are still supporting each of these operations. And although our current commitment in Haiti is now relatively small, we still have a presence there more than 4 years later.

In addition, the Air Force has surged several times to meet threats from Iraq, as well as numerous humanitarian and noncombatant evacuation operations. Some of these surges were significant in equipment and people, such as the Fall 1997 and Spring 1998 deployment to Southwest Asia. Over 4,000 people and 100 aircraft deployed on short-notice and did not return until early Summer 1998. All this time, we have expected our people to maintain proficiency and, because Air Force units are the first to fight, maintain a high state of readiness.

Shortfalls began to appear in some readiness areas, but by late 1995 and early 1996, because the system was still fairly elastic, we were able to balance those shortfalls across the force. In doing so, some of the decline in readiness indicators was masked. Moreover, I believe we suffered from the tyranny of aggregation as numerous readiness states were grouped. Consequently, we did not see much of a decline in overall readiness.

In 1997, we lost more elasticity as the top line stayed constant and supplemental appropriations for on-going contingencies were discontinued for all operations except Bosnia. The effect was similar to reducing the size of the front sprocket on bicycle while increasing the size of the rear sprocket, resulting in the rider having to work harder and faster to maintain the same speed.

I was directly involved in trying to maintain the readiness balance. One of the things we tried to do beginning in late 1994 was to maintain our modernization in the face of cuts. This policy was initiated because we had been using the modernization accounts to pay virtually all the bills. The result was shorting some of the O&M accounts and assuming some risks. Additionally, we assumed we would get more efficiencies out of our depots that were never achieved. Also, our planning models proved to be not as accurate as we had believed and projections were more optimistic than reality. For example, the impact of aging aircraft was not well understood since we never had an average fleet age approaching 20 years. Thus, unforeseen problems with corrosion, engines, and spare parts, among others, began to appear. Lastly, we assumed that we could live off the excesses left over from the drawdown longer than we were able. Part of this was due to the fact that in the 1994-95 time frame, we did not believe that the size and length of our overseas commitments would continue at that level.

To be sure, there were troubling readiness indications in 1995-96, such as the beginnings of a decline in mission capable rates and an increase in the number of TDY days, and we took steps to deal with these problems. By the Spring of 1998, when the troops began returning from the latest surge in Southwest Asia, the full extent of the problem became clear. Although Air Force members were willing to do the job while deployed, many of them had worked too long and hard, without sufficient resources to get the job done right. For many, the pull of a robust economy, and the desire to share in the prosperity from winning the Cold War and downsizing, were too much to ignore. As a result, the Air Force continued to lose the most flexible and valuable resource, their people.

The Problem

The bottom line is that the overall Air Force readiness of the major operational units as measured by the Status of Resources and Training System, or SORTS, has shown a dramatic decline - almost 15 percent over the last 32 months. A review of some equipment and people statistics underscores the serious nature of the situation.

The unavailability of spare parts affected readiness in several ways. The most obvious has been the increase in the percentage of aircraft reported as non-mission capable for supply since the end of the Gulf War. This has resulted in a significant increase in the cannibalization rate, and has increased the amount of time needed to repair an aircraft by 50 percent. And it has largely been done on the backs of an enlisted force trying to compensate for a deficiency in resources.

Another important factor adding to the workload of our people is the increasing age of Air Force weapon systems. These aging aircraft are requiring more maintenance time, effort, and a lot more money to keep them mission capable due to parts obsolescence, unforeseen component failures, and corrosion. By next year, the average age of Air Force aircraft will be over 20 years old. By 2015, the average will have risen to 30 years (even with the acquisition of such aircraft as the F-22, the T-6A, and more C-17s).

Retention is also a problem area. Reenlistment rates for mid-level enlisted members (those with eight to ten years of service) dropped below the goal of 75% in 1997 and are continuing to decline. This means that the Air Force is losing the experience and leadership needed in the backbone of its force, the enlisted corps. The problem is even more acute in warfighting career fields such as avionics specialists, security police, and aircraft maintenance.

Among the pilot force, active duty separations have increased to the point that the Air Force was more than 700 pilots short at the end of this fiscal year. The pilot deficit is projected to continue to increase and will be near 2000 by Fiscal Year 2002. The Guard and Reserves have a similar problem, although the full impact will probably be delayed by two or three years.

Lack of supplies, aging equipment, and retention are only part of the readiness problem. Perhaps of equal importance are the attitudes of our people - how they feel about themselves, their leadership, and their mission. If they believe their sacrifices will be adequately rewarded, and believe the cause is worthy of their sacrifice, then we can overcome a number of shortages. But if they are overworked both at home and while TDY, and are not provided the resources needed to do a decent job, then their level of personal commitment will decline and they will vote with their feet. As I said, we are seeing that in the pilots and second-term airmen, especially in the enlisted warfighting specialties.

What Has Been Done

I believe the Air Force has been working the readiness problem hard to mitigate impacts of shortfalls in people, equipment, and money. Recently, General Ryan introduced the Expeditionary Aerospace Force concept. It is designed to address the operating tempo by providing more predictability and stability for the force, while also providing the capabilities the warfighting theater commanders need. When implemented in calendar year 2000, it should also improve the integration of the Air Reserve components into the Total Force, thus reducing the load on everyone and enhancing readiness across the Air Force.

Air Force leadership has also taken several steps to attack specific retention problems. For example, with your help, the Air Force recently doubled the amount allocated for selective reenlistment bonuses for critical enlisted career fields, offering the bonus to more than 100 skills this year. The Air Force also increased the Aviation Career Incentive Pay and the amount of the bonus paid to aviators who agree to remain on active duty. Non-monetary steps include increasing the numbers of pilots going through initial flying training and extending the active duty service commitment after initial training from eight to ten years.

What Congress Can Do

While these steps are important, they are clearly not enough. I believe the real long-term solutions lie outside the Services' purview. Congress is already helping by putting a spotlight on the readiness issue through these hearings. But I believe the Services need more help. The solution requires some combination of an increase in the defense budget and a decrease in the overseas commitment. The Services can no longer continue the balancing act and maintain readiness at necessary levels.

We need additional BRAC legislation. There are too many bases for the existing force structure and the resulting overcapitalization is a significant drain on the Services' already limited resources. We reduced the 'tooth' side of the equation several years ago, and it is critical that we reduce the 'tail' side. I realize that it will take time for the savings from another BRAC round to be realized but, nevertheless, we must reduce that unnecessary infrastructure to free up dollars for longer-term investments like modernization. Also, the Air Force and the other Services proposed, as part of the QDR, various force movements and consolidations to improve efficiencies. The Air Force proposed a great many and, to my knowledge, none have been approved.

In addition, the Services need more flexibility in utilizing their monetary resources. Congress needs to stop adding weapon systems that the military does not request, and keeping programs and offices open that the military no longer finds useful. The Services also need to regain flexibility in their operations. In order to have the elasticity in the system to ensure readiness remains high, the Air Force needs more flexibility - reduced funding fences and floors, and easing the restrictions on workforce adjustments. The military needs to regain sufficient flexibility to be able to respond to the inevitable contingency without putting the readiness of the force in jeopardy.


Mr. Chairman, and members of the Committee, today I have attempted to explain the complex interrelationship of military readiness and provided my views on how we arrived at our current situation, as well as what can be done to start correcting the problem. Hopefully, I have contributed to the debate.

As I take a step back, I am struck by the consistencies in our history. After every war, America has drawn down its military. And every time we have gone too far in those reductions, sometimes with serious consequences in American lives. After the conclusion of the Cold War, I believe we have drawn down too far, and again readiness and modernization are suffering. The ability of our military to carry out our National Military Strategy is in jeopardy. But like the Congresses of the past, I am confident that this Committee will work hard with the rest of the United States government to find the solutions that are right for our country and for our men and women in uniform.