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U.S. Military Hits Lowest Readiness Levels in Years, Analyst Says

WASHINGTON, Sept. 18, 2000-Reeling from a combination of troop cuts, slashed budgets and overuse, the U.S. military is suffering from its lowest state of readiness since the end of the Cold War, a new Heritage Foundation study says.

Between 1992 and 2000, the Clinton administration cut national defense by more than 500,000 personnel and $50 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars, notes defense policy analyst Jack Spencer. A just-released Congressional Budget Office report finds that military funding would need to increase by $50 billion a year simply to maintain the size of today's forces.

Since 1992, Spencer notes, the Army has lost four active divisions and two reserve divisions-30 percent of its staff. The Air Force is down by five tactical squadrons, 178 bombers and 30 percent of its active personnel. The naval fleet has gone from 393 ships in 1992 to 316, and the Navy has decreased its active duty personnel by 30 percent. Even the Marines have lost personnel-22,000 since 1992.

Despite this drastic downsizing, the pace of military deployments has increased 16-fold over the last eight years, including missions in Somalia (1993), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1996), and Iraq and Kuwait (1998). As a result of this over-extension, all four services-Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy-face a shortage of modernized equipment and low morale that is driving more and more troops out of the military completely.

"Nearly a decade of misdirected policy coupled with a myopic modernization strategy has rendered America's armed forces years away from top form," writes Spencer, who notes that readiness refers to a unit's ability to accomplish its assigned mission. Logistics, available spare parts, training, equipment and morale all contribute to readiness, he says.

Even those who deny a readiness problem can't claim the United States is prepared to fulfill its own "National Security Strategy," which states that the country must be able to fight and win two major regional conflicts during overlapping timeframes, Spencer says. Key senior military officers-including Commandant of the Marines Corps Gen. James Jones, former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jay Johnson, and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Ryan-have expressed serious concerns about the ability of their respective services to carry out this strategy.

The services are also short of critical equipment, including night-vision goggles, chemical-agent monitors and global-positioning units, Spencer says. Some equipment is aging faster than it can be replaced, such as 20-year-old U.S. fighter aircraft that were designed to last 15 years. A Pentagon spokesman said earlier this year that spare parts are so scarce that the Air Force has been forced to "cannibalize" perfectly good aircraft.

"When smaller, more poorly equipped forces deploy for more missions, the result is increased wear-and-tear and longer deployments for servicemen," Spencer says. "The result is a military weakened by aging equipment, low morale and inadequate training."

The Clinton administration has deployed U.S. troops 34 times in less than eight years. During the entire Cold War (a 40-year period), the military was committed to comparable deployments just 10 times, Spencer writes. Today, for example, the Army has 144,716 soldiers in 126 countries, with the Kosovo campaign alone costing U.S. taxpayers $15 billion to date.

Spencer says it's no surprise the military is not meeting its retention rates, particularly when more than 5,000 personnel are forced to live on food stamps. A 1999 Navy survey to gauge the morale of its junior officers found 82 percent answered negatively, citing poor leadership, inadequate pay, and insufficient parts and equipment. The Air Force missed its 1999 retention goal by 5,000 airmen and expects to be down 1,500 pilots by the end of 2002.

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