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Special Event

Joint Chiefs Chairman Addresses Congress on Military Readiness

Aired September 27, 2000 - 9:37 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Want to go from that to another hearing that is taking place on Capitol Hill. Chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Hugh Shelton, addressing Congress about military readiness.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GEN. HENRY SHELTON, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Today, our four deployed and our first-to-fight forces are trained and ready, as the nation witnessed, during Operation Desert Fox in 1998 and also in Operation Allied Force last year. And they're also ready for any lesser contingency. This readiness capability has repeatedly been demonstrated during the past year in the Balkans, in southwest Asia, in East Timor and in other operations and exercises around the world.

I just returned, last week, from talking with troops, sergeants and commanders in Kosovo, in Europe, or, rather, in Bosnia, in Europe, and in Korea. In fact, while I was in the rear, I had the chance to fly over there the valley where the U.S. Army's Task Force Smith was mauled badly in the early phases of the Korean War a half-a-century ago, and that served as is a vivid reminder of me, the cost that we pay in lives, if we are not ready when called upon.

But today, our forces are, without a doubt, the most professional, effective, and flexible in the world. Indeed, I don't think anyone else could have simultaneously accomplished the highly intensive combat operations over Serbia, the forced deterrent and maritime interdiction operations in the Persian Gulf and peace operations in both Bosnia and Kosovo.

And additionally, we demonstrated our flexibility across the full spectrum of national requirements by carrying out our military training operations in west Africa and supporting fire-fighting operations throughout the western United States. However, often, when we reduce our readiness discussions to sound bites, we talk only about the first to deploy and the first to fight, and, as I said, they are ready.

But, when you look below these depths, you find that there are many other units that are vitally important to war fighting that aren't in the Army's divisions, the Marine expeditionary forces, the Navy's battlegroups or the Air Force fighter wings. For example, the air borne tanker fleet, a strategic airlift fleet and our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance units. All of whom provide critical capabilities to our war-fighting forces, as do the training bases and the combat service and combat service support units.

They are not as ready and, in some cases, suffering the consequences of resources that have been redirected to sustain the near-term readiness of our first-to-fight forces. Mr. Chairman, as you mentioned, almost three years ago, in open hearings and again today, as you have heard me -- you've heard me talk about our risk in the two major theater war scenario.

In each of our quarterly readiness reports to Congress, and specifically the classified Annex H, we lay out in great detail where our readiness shortcomings are that drive up the risk. The specifics of those can only be discussed in either a closed hearing or in a classified report, since we do not want to share our Achilles heel with potential adversaries.

Today, parts of this post-1997 QDR force, already 40 percent smaller than the force that won the Gulf War, are strained. The higher-than-anticipated operational and personal tempo required to meet our increased national commitments is placing a heavy burden, as you mentioned, Mr. Chairman, directly on our troops, and our equipment is wearing out at a much faster rate than expected. Consequently, our troops are paying the price. They're spending more and more time working on aging equipment at the expense of honing important war-fighting skills, and they know it.

Furthermore, the requirement to maintain our inventory of aging equipment in support of these high-tempo operations is costing us more in each succeeding year; cost in terms of repairs, in downtime, and in maintenance manhours. But this is not new news. Two years ago, as you mentioned, Mr. Chairman, the Joint Chiefs appeared before this committee and testified that we needed additional resource of 148 billion. If you add the additional DOD requirements, that figure went up to 154.7.

But at that time, the administration, supported by the Congress, provided 112 billion to cover our most critical requirements. However, that left $36 billion of requirements, primarily in our infrastructure and modernization accounts, that went unfunded -- requirements that have not gone away.

That said, the $112 billion combined with the FY99 and the FY2000 congressional increases were solely needed to reverse the downward trend in our near-term readiness while protecting our investments in modernization.

That increased funding has clearly helped. However, in some areas like spare parts, it takes 12 to 18 months after the money is appropriated to be reflected in inventories, and consequently in related readiness rates. Also, much of the money provided has been consumed by the higher-than-anticipated operational tempo that we have maintained. So while the plus-ups are a solid start, they are not a panacea.

With that background, I would like to turn to the first chart. In looking at this chart, you see the aggregated readiness rates of all active units of the four services. And you will note, as indicated, that we have arrested a decline in readiness among our active units, or leveled off. How did we level off? This was accomplished primarily through the welcome additions to the top line of the past few years, and we remain optimistic that this near-term readiness trend will not only level off, but will actually begin to increase. Not immediately, but over the next several years.

Now, I should note...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General, those charts are extremely difficult to read. Now the bottom, I presume those little black dots are dates?

SHELTON: Yes, sir, they are. And each member...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And can you say -- put 90 -- where's 1996?

SHELTON: Each member, Mr. Chairman, has a copy in front of them at this time to assist you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, I see now. All right, but others have to follow the charts. So 1996 is about in the middle of the bottom?

SHELTON: Yes, sir. Point out '96.

Sir, each member was provided a copy.

I should note on this particular chart that this is the aggregate level and it does not account for some readiness concerns at the individual unit level, and that it has leveled off well below where it was a few years back for the Air Force and the Navy. And the service chiefs will provide additional detail and another perspective on that shortly.

The '97 QDR, based on the Defense security strategy of "shape, respond, and prepare," was designed to meet the projected threat of 2015 and stem the migration of resources from procurement to O&M. Additionally, the QDR recognized that it was time to start increasing our investment in procurement. In fact, the QDR correctly pointed out that we needed to start procuring more after the conscious decision in the early '90s to downsize and cut procurement as a peace dividend. As a result, our 1997 QDR procurement goal was set at $60 billion per year.

Our QDR assessment, developed by DOD, both uniform and civilian, garnered a generally bipartisan consensus across Washington. Since that QDR, $153 billion in real dollars has been added to the QDR baseline, as shown on this chart. This chart reflects where the 153 billion was apportioned. And most of the increase, you'll note, went toward our manpower and our operations and maintenance accounts, which directly impacts our current readiness.

But when we look inside that O&M increase, we see that the approximately 75 percent, or the $77 billion portion that's being pointed to now, went to fund the increased operation of our forces and our bases, and only the remaining 25 percent inside those -- that O&M figure went to preserving the combat readiness of our forces by the purchase of spares and repair parts along with depot-level maintenance.

Additionally, you'll note on the chart that we have invested in some of our next-generation systems by increasing our R&D or research and development efforts. However, these investment in research and development, the new systems will not be realized for several years when we begin to field equipment like DD-21, joint strike fighter F- 22, CVNX, and the list goes on.

Also, as the force continues to age, this practice of funneling money into O&M to maintain these older systems will continue. Let me give three brief examples: Today, the Army's UH-60 Alpha helicopter is 17 years old and costs approximately $1,500 per hour to operate, while the UH-60 Lima is only 6 years old and only costs about a little less than $1,000 to operate. So you can see the older model operates at 55 percent higher cost than the new one.

The Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Vehicle was first fielded in 1971. It will require the Marines to spend $320 million over the 5- year Defense plan to address critical reliability, maintainability and operational concerns. And finally, the Army's M-1 main battle tank, operating costs have risen 23 percent over the last three years.

All the services have similar examples. We are collectively robbing Peter to pay Paul, or robbing modernization, which is long- term readiness, to pay for current readiness.

I believe that the budget plus-ups are an important down payment on readiness, but they only address the most critical needs of the near-term readiness problem. We need to ensure that the trim remains steady and in the right direction. However, we cannot continue to do this at the expense of long-term readiness.

As we all recognize, these budgets are about priorities and trade-offs. And based on the missions assigned to us, our priority for the past two years has been to fund near-term readiness for the first-to-fight forces and to meet the 1997 QDR goal of $60 billion for procurement. This is a real success stories. From 43 billion in procurement three years ago to $60 billion in procurement in the '01 budget, a significant achievement, as you know, Mr. Chairman, was led by Secretary Cohen.

But the simple reality is that after three years of demanding and unanticipated military and humanitarian operations, we know now that the $60 billion projected by the 1997 QDR will not be sufficient to sustain the force. There are a number of reasons for this. For one, anticipated end-strength reductions were not obtained; two, requested break-grounds have been deferred; operations and support costs have continued to grow due to higher fuel costs and sustainment of older systems; and finally, we've had significant unplanned costs associated with programs such as National Missile Defense and the DOD health program. The result has been a continuous migration of dollars away from the procurement accounts.

And even though we did achieve the goal of -- the QDR goal of 60 billion in procurement this fiscal year, let's look at what the $60 billion buys for the department. This chart reflects a 17-year history of procurement for tactical aircraft, helicopters, ships and armored vehicles. The steady state rate, which is highlighted in blue in each category, represents what we need to buy to keep our equipment from becoming even older.

My message to you today is that we must accelerate the pace of replacing our rapidly deteriorating ships, aircraft weapons and other essential military equipment. By increasing procurement into the steady state blue range right now, and in the out years, we will be able to ensure the future readiness of the force. This is also true of our aging infrastructure. At post camps and stations, such items as housing, fuel lines, water lines, as well as facilities where our people work and live, have outstripped their useful life. Many of these facilities are well past their intended life, yet they are being patched instead of replaced. And this directly impacts our ability to provide a decent quality of life for our troops.

So the question is, obviously, how much funding do we need?

This chart shows projected procurement in fiscal year 2000 and beyond. It remains at $60 billion across the five-year defense plan, if measured in constant fiscal year 2000 dollars. There have been numerous studies that have addressed this issue and they have made their own estimates, each of which is based on different assumptions.

Even accounting for the impact of the supplementals authorized by the Congress, the required level of procurement spending needed to sustain the force, as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office, is now well in excess of $60 billion.

The real challenge then is one of future modernization, as our heavily used and aging equipment gets even older. And as we replace these systems, we must do so while continuing to maintain the readiness of today's busy force.

I do not have the specific dollar figure today. But in succeeding months, leading into next QDR, that answer should become clearer. But one thing I think is obvious, and that is that $60 billion will not be enough to get the job done, given our current strategy and force structure.

We should anticipate the need for a significant plus up in the defense budget over the next decade to meet military requirements. This also assumes that other costly initiatives, such as providing our retires with the health care that they have earned and deserve, and national missile defense, will be funded separately.

If we are to sustain our undersurpassed war fighting force and to remain engaged in shaping world affairs to support U.S. interests in the future, we must as a nation, supply the resources to support this effort. The only alternative, one which in my opinion, military judgment, is least acceptable, is to design a more constrained, higher risk strategy.

Mr. Chairman, in summary, as you and every member of this committee know, we have got a great force, it's a heavily used forced, and it is fact protecting America's interest globally. It appears that near-term readiness for our first to fight is improving, thanks to the steadfast support of the administration, this committee and the Congress as a whole.

I am concerned today, however, with the longer term readiness situation to be faced by my successors. I consider it imperative, as I believe each member of this committee does, that our men and women in uniform remain the best equipped and the best cared for military in the world.

And to do this, we must find the resources necessary to modernize the force, to ensure that we leverage technology to our advantage when we send our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines into the harm's way.

In short, we cannot mortgage future readiness. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and I look forward to your questions during the question-and- answer section.

KAGAN: We have been listening to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hugh Shelton, as he addresses Congress and addresses the Senate Armed Services Committee. Talking about military readiness, which has been a hot topic on the campaign trail this year. The chairman saying that the military needs more troops and it is very important to address the idea of modernization and other improvements for equipment in the military.

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