Did Throwing Money at the Pentagon Fix its Readiness Problems?
February 17, 2003
Discussion Threads - Comment: #169
[Ref 1] "Bio/Chem Attack Protection Questioned," CBS 60 Minutes, Feb. 14, 2003
Introduction & Background
President Bush came to office promising to correct the readiness and modernization problems of the military. He asserted the deterioration in the 1990s was the product of the funding cuts and policy decisions made by the Clinton Administration. To be sure, readiness and modernization deteriorated during the Clinton era—Thread 1 shows that many blasters were written during the Clinton Administration to illustrate this fact. Yet, as long-time readers of this list know, the real reasons for the deterioration had little to do with the post-cold war funding reductions or specific policy decisions. Carterizing Clinton made for good politics, but it did address the root cause of the military's resource management problems.
These roots of these problems rest in the bi-partisan behavior of business as usual in Versailles on the Potomac, where the interaction of uncontrolled cost growth with the Defense Power Games (see Thread 2) of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (or MICC) determines the actual evolution of our military forces over the long term.
During the 1990s, for example, the size of our combat forces shrank faster than the budget shrank, so spending per unit of combat power actually increased, even if one discounts the effects of inflation. Yet it is also a fact that the pressure to cut readiness was real and weapons aged rapidly during this period.
The real failure in the 1990s was one of omission. The Clinton Administration, the bureaucracy in the Pentagon, the contractors, and the elected oversight officials in Congress—Republicans and Democrats—collaborated to preserve the comfortable status quo that had evolved during the forty years of Cold War. In so doing, they squandered the historic opportunity brought about by the end of the Cold War to put the Pentagon's house in order.
The structural problems created by this collaboration manifest themselves as pressures to reduce readiness, to slow down the rate modernization (effect: aging weapons), and to shrink the the size of our combat forces—the so-called Defense Death Spiral. As has been noted repeatedly, the activities are masked by a corrupt accounting system that makes it impossible to assemble the detailed information needed to figure out how to exit the Death Spiral (see Comment #169). So, the spiral persists when budgets increase or decrease.
The effects of these pressures can be discerned over the long term. In the Air Force, for example, we can trace the problem of aging airplanes and shrinking inventories back to 1957—see the inventory and age chart at the following url. Note that the problem of age growth is projected to increase as far as the eye can see. Note also that recent budget increases have not changed the outlook for future aging: http://d-n-i.net/dni/about/charts-and-data/ )
The rising cost of operations per unit of combat power, for example, can be inferred from the budget-force structure relations at the following two urls: http://d-n-i.net/charts_data/rising_cost_of_operations.htm http://d-n-i.net/charts_data/rising_cost_fh_onm.htm
A more comprehensive portrait of this evolution can be seen by examining the Defense Death Spiral at the following url:
This is a the first in a series of occasional Blasters that will examine whether or not the huge funding increases in the last several years have led to a fundamental transformation or merely rewarded the bureaucratic behavior that created the Death Spiral.
We will start this series of inquiries by examining three microscopic vignettes illustrating how bureaucratic pathologies undermine readiness for combat even as we prepare for combat.
What follows is by no means a comprehensive portrait—just a three snapshots. But, taken together, they do suggest a familiar behavioral theme. Bear in mind, they are just symptoms suggesting the possibility that business as usual continues in Versailles on the Potomac.
First, the alleged reason for attacking Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein is Saddam's continued desire to acquire and presumably use or sponsor the use of weapons of mass destruction, particularly biological and chemical weapons. Most informed observers do not believe he has nuclear weapons, but they are convinced he has and will use chemical (and perhaps biological) weapons against our forces if he is cornered.
Yet according to the General Accounting Office and other observers, the combat forces that are preparing to attack and depose Saddam may not be ready to deal with these threats on a battlefield. Last night (Feb 16), the CBS show 60 Minutes presented a horrifying expose of the sorry state of readiness for chemical warfare in the U.S. Army. The promotional excerpt from the CBS website is attached as Reference 1 below. Read it.
Readers of the Blaster should not be surprised to learn about this egregious state of affairs. It is, unfortunately, all too typical. We have been railing against these kinds of problems for years.
But bureaucracies will have no reason to change or transform themselves, if politicians reward pathological behavior by throwing money at it.
The attached two emails also illustrate this kind of behavior, but in different spheres and at a more microscopic level of organization—which also happens to be the pointy end of the spear. The first is from an Army Staff Sergeant on active duty in the United States (and frequent contributor to the Blaster,) and the second is from a retired Army Lt Colonel with extensive combat experience. I know with absolute certainty that both men love the Army and are committed to its patriotic ideals of sacrifice, honor, and soldierly virtue. But ... they are deeply concerned about the Army's welfare, notwithstanding the recent increases in the Army's budget.
I urge you to read them as well.
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Twelve years after chemical and biological weapons were discovered in Iraq's arsenal during the Gulf War, U.S. forces massing for a possible attack on Iraq are still not properly prepared to encounter such weapons.
Politicians, current and former military members and even Congress's own General Accounting Office tell Mike Wallace that American soldiers do not have enough training or equipment needed to survive a chemical or biological attack. Wallace's report will be broadcast on 60 Minutes, Sunday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m., ET/PT.
Troops in the field are so frustrated by the lack of preparedness that they have twisted the acronym NBC, for nuclear, biological chemical warfare. "Truth to tell, the troopers call it, 'Nobody Cares:' NBC," says retired Col. David Hackworth, an advocate of soldier's rights. "What they've been saying to me is that they don't trust their gear. They don't think it will work in a desert environment where it's burning hot. A soldier without confidence is in trouble," Hackworth says.
Until recently, NBC training was not even a factor measured in assessing the readiness of military units. Retired Capt. Eric Taylor, who studied the matter for a Cato Institute report, says commanders never thought they would face NBC. "An annoyance, as a waste of time, as a joke," is how Taylor says commanders viewed NBC. "I understand we are now dispatching specialized teams to do crash training, almost on-the-job training. You don't do on-the-job training with these things. These things will kill you," Taylor says.
Some of the protection available could get a soldier killed. If initial waves of troops run out of new gear, they would have to resort to older protective suits, up to 250,000 of which have potentially fatal defects and are still unaccounted for. There have also been errors made, such as gas masks issued with training filters instead of the real thing and shortages of protective suits.
The Pentagon's head of chemical and biological preparedness acknowledges there have been problems, but says they're being addressed, especially warning troops about the 250,000 defective suits and trying to locate them. Otherwise, training is being done and soldiers are ready, says Dr. Anna Johnson-Winegar. "We have world-class equipment. We've made this a priority. Our young men and women are trained. They know what to do," she tells Wallace.
The GAO would not allow its NBC investigator, Raymond Decker, to be interviewed for this report, but he told Congress that despite a recent push to prioritize NBC training, it's still not enough in the face of such awesome weapons.
Says Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), chairman of the House National Security Subcommittee, "We've had 12 years now to deal with it. We haven't. We're still hearing from people out in the field that they're not getting this equipment yet and they're not training in it," he says.