Did Throwing Money at the Pentagon Fix its Readiness Problems?

February 17, 2003

Comment: #473

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.

Email 1:

Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2003
Subject: Unintended consequences of the Army stop movement policy


Just thought I would let you know a couple of little things that the Iraq situation is causing in the army.

The biggest thing is that the stop movement order only applies to deploying units, so units like mine (a training unit), can lose people, but we are not expecting any folks to come in and replace the loss. Looks like we are projected to be down to .89 instructors per 6 students. Regulations say we have to have 1 instructor per 6 students. Reality has always been that we are lucky to have 1 instructor per 20 students.

So things are going to be a little tight for the foreseeable future.

Now here is a classic example of military bookkeeping for you. Starting in January, Fort ---- received money to hire civilian contractors to perform Kitchen Police in the dining facility. And by golly the money came in. Unfortunately, we have been directed to not spend the money because it will be needed for contingency operations. Which begs the question why did they give us the money in the first place? This isn't like a surprise or anything that we are going invade Iraq.

Be safe.


Email 2:

From: a retired Army LTC
Subject: Readiness of Armored Forces & the Bean Counters
Date: January 2003

In December 2002, an active duty armor battalion at Fort Hood received an order to put 75 miles on each of their 44 tanks. This was necessary to to satisfy the requirements of the funding model for the Operations and Maintenance Budget so the unit would receive the same amount budget dollars for training in the following year. If the money was not spent, the bean counters and headquarters would say it was not needed and the budget for training would be slashed.

Dutifully, the battalion drove the tanks around Fort Hood training area for two days in order to rack up 75 miles on each M1A2SEP tank. This evolution required:

  1. two days to plan,

  2. the services of a driver and a tank commander for the 75 mile ride; and

  3. the requisite labor hours to clean and service the tanks once they are finished.

If there are 44 tanks in this battalion, and given the requirement of 75 miles, this means 3300 miles were traveled by the battalion in two days.

Consider the cumulative cost: (1) M-1 tanks require JP-4 fuel. If the tank gets 3 miles per gallon as advertised, this means 1100 gallons of JP-4 fuel were consumed. This is not a great cost in the scheme of things, but (2) add to that the fact that track life of the caterpillar tread is around 400 miles. So this jaunt ate up about 20 percent of the track life of each tank (2 tracks). Now (3) factor in the wear and tear maintenance, which is considerably more than the civilian vehicle, and the cost starts to escalate.

Moreover, this unit could be deployed to Iraq in the near future with their tanks. (It received its deployment orders shortly after this email was written.) The Army just stole a pretty big portion of the useful life of these tanks just to satisfy a very unreliable measure of merit for live training: "miles driven".

There could well be a cost in lives as well as dollars as a result of this circus act if these tanks, when deployed, break down sooner than they would have because of this folly.

One of the problems is that there are few measures of merit for field training of armored units. This makes it easier for the bean counters to cut training budgets. So, unless the unit has had recent rotation to the National Training Center, the measure of merit used at the local level is "miles driven." There are plenty of measures of merit for tank gunnery training such as crew qualification and Table 12 completion as well as ammunition consumed, but for force-on-force live maneuver training (which is the essence of armored warfare), the current measure seems to exist only in miles driven. This is a travesty!

Moreover, Fort Hood is home to two heavy divisions, but Hood does not have enough training area to allow its units to go to the field to train routinely. So, a unit must be scheduled for a big exercise or for a rotation through the National Training Center in order to have enough priority to train in the field at Hood. Reportedly, much of the Fort Hood area is closed due to environmental concerns. (Note: I can't find the documentation for this, but I thought I had it somewhere in my files....)

Let us transition now to the Army National Guard and to states with heavy armor. Guard units have the same training requirement. They also depend on Operations and Maintenance funds for live training, and the measure of merit is the same: miles driven. Currently two states, Georgia and South Carolina, are under threat by the Active Duty Army bean counters to lose future training funds because they have not driven the requisite mileage. So right now these states are struggling with the ethics of bringing in tank commanders and drivers on additional training days to drive these tracks to rack up mileage that has no training value.

A real disconnect exists between the Army analysis community (and its counterparts in the Office of the Secretary of Defense) that builds funding models and the training community that designs and executes training models. Another disconnect exists between Congress and the Department of the Army which provides the training miles each budget year. Congress appropriates training money based on comparisons with previous years.

The crime here is that training for armor units is based on miles driven, not the conduct of live maneuver training (or even simulated training). So in order to get the same dollars or more each year, a unit's tanks are driven the requisite miles without any commensurate training.

So my questions are:

  • How can commanders ethically report on the combat readiness in their unit readiness reports. when they have not trained as a combat unit?

  • What are the real costs of driving all the 6,000 tanks and and the associated number of infantry fighting vehicles in the US Army the same number of miles each year without any real training benefit?

  • Is there not also a reduction in readiness due to lost training time and a reduction in readiness due to wear and tear on the vehicles?

  • And this says nothing of money wasted that could be put to productive uses elsewhere. But then, maybe money is no object in today's Army.

Senior commanders may deny knowledge of this or just shrug it off as the Army's way of "doing business", but it has to have a major effect on the military culture that shapes the morale and retention of our junior officers and non commissioned officers. These men and women are still the key to effectiveness in combat, but what kind of officer will be satisfied with this state of affair? More specifically -

  • What kind of aspiring combat officer will not be adversely affected by not being able to train realistically in the field?

  • What kind of combat leader would not be disheartened by having to tell his troops to drive their vehicles around the range to get mileage?

  • What must the young private think of his leaders after 75 dust-filled or mud-filled miles?

  • What kind of National Guard leader wants to spend his even more precious man-days having no training value?

Maybe a real leaders should "just say no" ... because if they don't, our younger officers and NCOs, seeing their future ahead of them, will continue to say, "I'm outta here."

And I can't blame them, that is why I am so worried about the Army I continue to love.

US Army Retired
Former tanker, infantryman, and veteran of 3 combat tours

Chuck Spinney

"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison, from a letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this 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

Bio/Chem Attack Protection Questioned
CBS 60 Minutes
Feb. 14, 2003


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.