NTC Problems Suggest a Deeper Question: Ready for What?

March 17, 2000

Comment: #350

Discussion Thread:  #s 348 & 349

Recall that the Concluding Remarks of Comment #348 ended with the question no one wants to ask: "Ready for What?

By this I meant: What kind of threats should we prepare to fight in the so-called post-industrial 21st Century, where there is no superpower threat; yet there are continuing conflicts among a welter of ethnic, religious, and criminal groups; where traditional rivalries are being inflamed by globalizing pressures, such as population growth, resource limitations, environmental degradation, rapid urbanization, near instantaneous communications, and the clash between western materialistic values and eastern spiritual values.  One thing is clear, belligerents, like the small mobile army teams in the Serbo-NATO War, guerrillas Chechnya, narco-warriors in Albanian and Columbia, insurgent warriors in Hezbollah, and terrorists are building on lessons learned by the likes of Lawrence, Lettow-Vorbeck, Tito, Mao, and Giap to lever the limitations and exploit the vulnerabilities of the heavy, industrial-strength, conventional military forces that dominated the industrial through most of the 20th Century.

Forwarded herewith are two email responses to Comments #348 and #349 that bear on the question of "Ready for What."

The first is from a conservative staff member in the House of Representatives. He raises the question in the context of the diversion of resources and rising cost of low readiness.  The second is from a Washington lawyer with forty years of experience in national defense planning, management and finance; now living in Boulder Colorado and the author of a forthcoming book: "Whither Our National Defense?"  He raises this question in a much broader context, suggesting, correctly in my opinion, that the defense question is being shaped more by internal political dynamics than by external reality.

------[Begin Email #1 from member of the Congressional Staff]-----

What is ironic about the NCO's e-mail [Comment #349] is his comment: "This was the last rotation before the start of the personnel draw downs, and all of the budget cuts we took in training and maintenance."

The irony is that Operations & Maintenance, the so-called readiness budget (so-called by Pentagon and Capitol Hill staffs) has gone UP per active duty troop: from roughly $55,000 per troop at the end of the Cold War to roughly $75,000 per troop now. I can almost hear all the budget geeks wagging their tongues in objection ("but that's been eroded by a decade worth of inflation"). No. The figures are in constant dollars.

Perhaps the solution to this apparent contradiction - more readiness money for less readiness - lies in the sergeant's observation that his subsequent visit to the NTC found more creature comforts: snack bars, phone centers, etc. All paid for with "readiness" funds. At the same time, there was less actual training.

That's why one must always ask: Ready for what?

-----[Begin Email # 2 from Washington Lawyer]-------

As an 'informed outsider' looking in on this colloquy [Comment #s 348 & 349], my reaction is that it sounds like the comments of those who attended a weekend reenactment of the Bull Run Battlefield skirmish. Not only is the exercise nearly totally disengaged from reality, but it would appear that its sponsors are quite clueless about what to do with the participants or, more importantly, why they are doing anything at all.

What is clear is that such exercises are exemplars of the inability of military leadership to focus on 21st Century missions; rerunning the mid-20th Century missions seems to be a lame excuse for continued existence at all and the injection of some smattering of late 20th Century technologies gives the whole activity some color other then musketry.

But, at every level, these approaches to 'training' serve only further to marginalize the important contribution which our military must make over the next quarter century to the 'presence' of our country in a rapidly globalizing world society. The continuation of archaic and anachronistic exercises in the face of radically changed threats and missions does not advance the sea changes that our military must make; nor, for that matter does the parochial and tradition-bound thinking of the unhappy Hart-Rudman Commission.

Unfortunately, I do not see any 'new' approaches coming along from our two presidential candidates. They seem content to assuage the 'defense sector' of their campaigns by the promise to throw more money in that direction. It seems to matter not that they have no coherent idea about the objects of this increased spending.

One thing is for sure: your sergeant will not be a recipient; he and his problems simply do not have enough political profile. In a marginalized military, hardware has a better profile then mere people.

-----[End Lawyer's Comment]-----

Chuck Spinney

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Boyd and the Military