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Nuts, bolts, & death.


The unofficial motto of the tank companyin Japan I was assigned to in 1949 was "on requisition.' Among many things on back order was a starter-solenoid for the company's tank retriever. It still hadn't arrived when our company was sent into combat in Korea. The only way the retriever, a kind of armored tow truck, could be started was by being towed itself, and when in the midst of a combat recovery operation it stalled after the driver was shot, the crew couldn't get it going again. My company commander and two of my garrison roommates were killed as they tried to escape--all because of a missing piece of wire that cost about seventy-five cents.

Sadly, that's not just ancient history. In his newbook, The Straw Giant, long-time defense journalist Arthur Hadley tells of flying on a 20-year-old B-52 bomber with bald tires, a leaking hydraulic system, and a gyro system repaired in flight by a crumpled fruit juice can. Writing in The New York Times last July, Adam Yarmolinsky pointed out that the fiscal 1987 Pentagon budget that was prepared in February, when compared with budget plans for fiscal 1987 prepared in 1985, "cuts spare parts purchases for the Air Force by 39 percent; the Navy, 22 percent; the Army, 32 percent.'

Certainly there is fat in the operations andmaintenance (O&M) budget from which spare parts are purchased. Individual services, for instance, normally refuse to share maintenance facilities, even for identical vehicles. Studies by the Pentagon, Congress, and the General Accounting Office (GAO) show that sharing maintenance facilities can save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Across-the-board cuts in the O&M budget won't solve this problem. They simply create another one: impaired readiness of combat units in the field. Since solenoids, unlike military bases and weapons systems, don't have a constituency, these funds have few champions in Congress. Not surprisingly, House and Senate conferees on the fiscal 1987 defense authorization bill agreed last September to cut an additional $2 billion from O&M, despite acknowledging the fact that such a reduction would hurt combat readiness.

The folly of this approach is, of course, thatpreparation is the most important thing our armed forces do in peacetime. That's why we keep them around. This is as true today as in the days of George Washington, who once said, "There is nothing so likely to produce peace as be well prepared to meet the enemy.' But training for war is expensive. Fuel to run tanks and airplanes and ships costs lots of money. An aircraft carrier, for instance, costs $500,000 a day out of port. Joint training exercises are even more costly. The "Reforger' exercise of NATO troops in Germany in 1985 cost $115 million. At Fort Bragg, Los Angeles Times reporter James Gerstenzang recently found that a training exercise in central Alaska had been cancelled for budgetary reasons. "There are few people in the unit who know how to fight in a winter environment,' the commander of the unit told Gerstenzang. Because the company had done no cold-weather exercises in five years, time-consuming training would be required "if we were called upon to deploy to a cold weather region.'

Developing marksmanship, whether riflemen,artillermen, tankers, fighter pilots, or naval gun crews, takes a lot of extraordinarily expensive missiles and ammunition. As The Washington Post's Rick Atkinson and Fred Hiatt recently found, "munitions are so expensive that it is common for even experienced pilots never to have fired some of the most important missiles in the arsenal.'

The usual justification for cutting trainingcosts is that to protect modernization we can afford to cut back on readiness. But cut back too far and modernization itself is meaningless. Well-trained soldiers can make up for deficiencies in equipment, but even the most modern and sophisticated weapons systems are just so much useless junk without those with the skill to operate them in the face of the enemy.

It's not as if we don't know better, for themilitary has gone through this drill before. As the operations officer in the mid-1960s of a mechanized infantry battalion at Fort Hood, I felt I had blood on my hands when the troops under my command--who had spent all their time pulling maintenance on Armored Personnel Carriers--were later sent to Vietnam as rifleman. "Better they were in the National Guard,' I told my brigade commander. "At least they'd have had two weeks summer training.' It wouldn't have been enough, but it would have been two weeks more than they got at Fort Hood.

Take a letter, General

"Every time we have a budget cut,' one Pentagonoffice worker told me over a decade ago, explaining another way wrong-headed cuts can undermine battlefield effectiveness, "they fire the indians and keep the chiefs because the chiefs are able to protect their jobs. But now they're to the point where the chiefs are the indians.'

She was absolutely right. Then conducting astudy of the duties of majors and lieutenant colonels working on the Army General Staff, I found that almost 70 percent of their time was spent on clerical duties--filing papers, standing in line at the Xerox machines, writing memos in longhand to be fed to the typing pool. What began as an attempt to cut costs ended up with a situation where officers were paid $40,000 a year to perform tasks better performed by an $8,000-a-year Private First Class.

A decade late nothing has changed. Visit thePentagon today and you will find the halls jammed with majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels spending the majority of their time as grossly overpaid filing clerks. Just a month after commanding a regiment made up of thousands of men and millions of dollars worth of equipment, complained one Marine colonel recently, he was just another desk clerk.

Moving in the right direction, the Pentagonrecently announced that if it had to, it was prepared to eliminate an entire Army division, an entire Navy carrier task force, and stretch out the procurement of 25 major weapons systems. This kind of thinking is long overdue. For too long Defense Department budget-cutters have ignored the ugly effects of cuts in readiness accounts. That price was paid in blood by somebody's son at Bataan and at Kasserine Pass in the opening days of World War II. And too many of my friends paid that same price in Pusan Perimeter in Korea.

We should not exact that price again. If thebudget crisis forces military cuts, then America must also cut back on its commitments to use military force as an instrument of its foreign policy. The nation is better served by openly accepting such an increased risk to its worldwide interests than by surreptitiously returning to the "hollow' military of the 1970s that gave Americans--but not America's enemies, who knew better--the dangerous illusion that we possessed power that in fact we did not really have.
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Title Annotation:U.S. Department of Defense spending policy
Author:Summers, Harry
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Jan 1, 1987
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