Readiness Trap Sprung - More Money Spent the
Same Way is Not the Answer

September 30, 1998

Comment: #197

Discussion Thread:  #s: 61, 159, 165, 166, 167, 182, 190, 191


[1] Thomas Ricks, "Joint Chiefs Tell Senate Military Faces Readiness Crisis, Needs Bigger Budget," Wall Street Journal, September 30, 1998. Excerpts attached.

[2] George Wilson, "Stuck on Super Weapons," Washington Post, September 29, 1998. Excerpts attached.

Since October 1992, I have been warning anyone who would listen that DoD was headed for a breakdown in the mid-to-late 1990s. [See, for example, my August 1993 memo (Ref #2 to Comment # 182) and my May 1994 memo (Ref #3 to Comment #166) to the Director of Program Analysis and Evaluation. Neither of these memos was acknowledged as having been received, let alone read.] I said the breakdown would take the form of some combination of shrinking forces, or rapidly a deteriorating readiness posture, or an uncontrolled spasm of budget increases which would not solve the basic problem, but merely perpetuate the status quo value system that created the problem. This conclusion was based on my analysis entitled "the Anatomy of Decline," which takes the form of a four and one-half hour briefing.

There can be no question that the chickens are now coming home to roost. In Reference #1, Tom Ricks of the Wall Street Journal reports that the Joint Chiefs testified yesterday that they will need at least $15 billion more per year to maintain readiness. Of course, they did not say the additional money would not buy enough new weapons solve the modernization crisis.

In Reference #2, George Wilson gives the reader a snapshot of the modernization problem. Wilson argues that the Chiefs will not say what they are willing to give up to get us out of this mess. This critique goes to the heart of the problem: More money spent the same way will make matters worse.

Nor did the Chiefs explain how they could figure out where to best spend the money, given that the bookkeeping system is now an unauditable morass of corrupt numbers [see Comment #61 and the attached statement Eleanor Hill, the Defense Department's Inspector General, made to Congress on 16 April 1998]. Notwithstanding the principle of accountability and the requirements of Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution, which mandates that principle and gives Congress the power of the purse, its most important constitutional power, no Senator on the Armed Services committee seemed aware of or concerned about a logical contradiction that insults to our form of government.

What is particularly outrageous about this mess is the fact that the civilian leadership in the Office of the Secretary of Defense just completed the summer program review and issued a Program Decision Memorandum that does not address the substance of the readiness problems discussed by the service chiefs at this hearing. Nor does it address the substance of the modernization problem or even acknowledge the implications of the broken bookkeeping system.

These three problems did not arise overnight. Bear in mind, the readiness crisis is occurring only one year after the Defense Department completed its first Quadrennial Defense Review, which was run by the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. How could the civilian and military leadership of the Pentagon conduct a nine-month planning drill and miss the problems discussed at yesterday's hearing? I pointed out these omissions in my critique of the QDR, which is available at the hot link beneath my signature block. This report was originally sent as a memorandum up my chain of command in June 1997.

There is no question that the troops in the field are hurting, but the reason they are hurting is because their interests (and the interests of the taxpayers) are held in contempt by decision-makers in the Pentagon and on Capital Hill.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, the following material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1

The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition -- September 30, 1998
Joint Chiefs Tell Senate Military Faces
Readiness Crisis, Needs Bigger Budget


"This readiness crisis didn't come out of nowhere," scolded Sen. Bob Smith (R., N.H.). "You and your predecessors have presided over it."


The Joint Chiefs can expect their services to be amply rewarded for this trip to the woodshed. Sen. Smith said he expects the chiefs to ask for a $25 billion annual increase in the Pentagon's budget, up from the planned levels of about $250 billion that would keep the defense budget roughly flat. Gen. Shelton appears inclined to spend much of the increase on boosting military pay and military retirement benefits, despite a lack of clear evidence that doing so would address the military's readiness problems.

REference #2

"Stuck on Super Weapons" By George C. Wilson
Washington Post
September 29, 1998; Page A17


The downsized force of 1.4 million men and women -- it numbered 3.5 million at the height of the supposedly "little" Vietnam War -- is supposed to stay ready to go into Kosovo tomorrow morning. The services are to keep buying super-weapons designed to fight the no longer existent Warsaw Pact. The military is supposed to restructure itself for the radically different threats of the 21st century.


Given this agreed-upon scenario for the 21st century threat, why do President Clinton and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen continue to allow:

  • The Army to spend millions on the heavy, Cold War M-1 tank and on the cumbersome Crusader artillery rig that would give an Air Force loadmaster fits?

  • The Navy to keep buying new $2 billion-a-copy nuclear attack submarines when there's a lot of life in the old ones and diesel subs could be bought from Germany for much less money?

  • The Air Force to keep buying hundreds of F-22 fighters at $160 million apiece when no potential enemy will be able to handle the planes we've already got for a decade or more?

  • The Marine Corps to buy hundreds of V-22 Osprey aerial troop taxis costing between $40 million and $60 million instead of cheaper Blackhawk helicopters?

George C. Wilson covers defense for LEGI-SLATE News Service, The Washington Post Co.'s on-line service, and writes a column on military affairs for Army Times Publishing Co.