excerpts from FRONTLINE's interviews with
chuck spinney | richard cheney | frederick w. kagan | andrew f. krepinevich, jr. | john hillen | ralph peters | general eric k. shinseki
The readiness issue has become an issue during this 2000 campaign. George
Bush has made it a big part of his platform. Is there a readiness
The answer is that it's a compound question. The answer is yes, there is a
significant readiness problem out there. And it is fair to say that these
problems developed during the Clinton administration. But it's also fair to
say that decisions were made in the early 1990s that put the Pentagon on an
evolutionary pathway to these readiness problems.
So it's no one administration's fault. The difference between administrations
in causing the defense problems is miniscule. This is a structural problem
that has built up over a long period of time. The end of the Cold War has
given us a heaven-sent opportunity to correct these problems before the
increased cost of Social Security and Medicare slam into us around 2010 or so.
But we have squandered one decade already, and it's beginning to look like
we're setting ourselves up to squander another decade.
What, specifically, are the kinds of readiness problems?
If we look at readiness problems in terms of hardware, there are shortages of
spare parts; aging equipment; increasing workload because of the need to
cannibalize spare parts--taking them off one weapon, putting them onto
another--text manuals are getting outdated; things of that sort. If we look at
the people component of readiness, which is far more important than the
material component of readiness, what we see are declining retention rates, and
But the most serious problem, in my mind, is something that I've been
collecting anecdotal data on for the last three or four years now. And that's
what I call "the widening wedge of mistrust" between the junior officers and
NCOs on the one hand, and the senior officers on the other. Basically, there's
a growing feeling amongst the juniors that the seniors are not dealing with
these problems--that, in fact, they're putting their own interests ahead of the
welfare of the services and their subordinates' interests.
This is a very serious problem. A military that feels like that, when it's put
under any kind of stress, will crack like an egg. And if we go back to the
meltdown of the military in the 1970s, I don't recall that kind of wedge
existing to the extent that it does today. So in that sense, what we're
seeing today may be worse than what we saw in the 1970s.
In what ways do you feel we have a military in decline that lacks readiness?
There is a lot of evidence out there. Some of it is anecdotal. I talk to a
lot of people still on active duty who tell me about the state of affairs
internally. When I was running Halliburton, retired senior officers came to
work for the company. And I get phone calls. I had one last week from a guy
who commanded one of the divisions in Desert Storm and at one point ran the
National Training Center in California. He keeps up with what's going on at
the National Training Center where we train our tank crews. And they're having
I look at the data that's produced by the Defense Department itself. The air
force readiness rate went down from 85 percent down to 65 percent. An army
report shows that 40 percent of our army helicopters aren't combat ready. I
look at the GAO study of 1,000 young officers and enlisted men, with over half
of them getting ready to get out because they don't want to stay.
The fact of the matter is that readiness has declined significantly. It's
affecting everything. It's affected morale and spare parts and training, and
our ability in the future to conduct future conflicts. Most of all, though, as
morale declines, it's a corrosive thing in a volunteer force, because we won't
be able to retain the kinds of people we have to have if we're going to have a
really first-rate military. And that counts for more than money; that counts
for more than weapons systems; it goes to the heart of how we defend ourselves
as a democracy.
I keep coming back to this notion: people think and say, "Well, it's okay that
we don't have the spare parts, because the Russians are in worse shape for
spare parts." That's not the point. The point is, if you don't have the spare
parts, that young mechanic out there on the flight line who's charged with
maintaining that F-15 can't do his job. If you are being deployed on missions
that take down the readiness because you're off doing other things, and those
missions are not understandable to the troops, and they don't really understand
why they're there and what they're doing, that affects morale; they won't
reenlist. If you've got the pilot who's not getting the flying hours because
the aircraft is not maintained, and he isn't up and ready, he's going to quit
and go fly for United.
The whole readiness question isn't just a question of whether we're ready to go
to war tomorrow against Russians. It is a question of whether or not you're
maintaining the force in a manner that's consistent with the expectations we
have for those people who are serving in it. Do they believe we care enough to
give them the resources we ask them to do for us? Or are we short-changing the
force so much by devoting money to other purposes? Are we misusing the force
by committing it in areas where it shouldn't be committed? Eventually, will
they come to question the value of their service, and decide not to serve?
Is there a readiness crisis?
I can't give you a straight answer, since I don't have access to all of the
reports. I can tell you that, anecdotally, there seems to be a readiness
crisis. If you talk with soldiers, if you read the testimony before the
congressional committee on readiness, there seems to be real readiness problem
in the army.
Here's the problem with readiness. You only know that when you're not ready
when soldiers start dying. For people to make light of the readiness issue is
really rather callous, and it really misses the point. It's hard to tell
whether you're ready when it's peacetime. A unit that looks real good in
peacetime and has figured out the game at NTC and figured out how to go in
there and do well can perform abysmally in wartime. You won't know until you
try, which means that you have to try as hard as you possible can. Failure to
do so is going to involve soldiers being killed who didn't need to be killed.
What do you think of the readiness crisis?
There is no easy formula that one can use to say that the army is ready.
. . . Ready for what? Ready for big wars? Ready for little wars, ready for
war in six months, ready for war in two years? So an important issue is how we
define what we want to be ready for. Then there's the interrelationship of the
services. You can have heavy divisions that are ready to deploy to a
threatened area, but if there isn't enough airlift or sealift to get it there,
is that true readiness? So it's a complex issue.
Certainly there is reason to be concerned in the army . . . over the issues of
army recruitment and army retention. There's growing concern about the army's
ability to retain talented young officers. The migration, as I understand it,
is away from combat arms and into other supporting arms. There's growing
dissatisfaction with the quality of life issues. These are things that speak
somewhat to near-term readiness. But they portend problems for readiness over
the long term. Readiness degrades gracefully up to a point, and then you reach
a kind of snowball effect.
I was in the "hollow army." For example, in my unit, spare parts shortages led
to frustration on the part of mechanics and maintenance people, who then left
the service. They were replaced by less capable people who misused the
existing spare parts we did have. So there was increased frustration on the
part of other soldiers. And you get this compounding effect. The great danger
the army faces now, as with the other services, is there's a sense that it's on
the ragged edge. It's at the point where, if it's not careful, readiness may
become more precipitous in terms of a decline. That gets you back to this
issue of an unprecedented challenge for the American army. Never before has
the American army had to support a US policy of being an active global power,
and at the same time transform itself to a different kind of fighting force.
These are uncharted waters.
Military revolutions typically bring about not only new forms of operation, but
new kinds of military capabilities and a shift in the kinds of military systems
that dominate the battlefield. . . . What strikes me as odd is that, to a
certain extent, we are moving forward in some areas very aggressively to
procure large numbers of systems. Those systems may be dominant today, but
they may not be dominant at all tomorrow. In short, they may depreciate very
rapidly in value.
A case in point is tactical aviation. Right now, the Defense Department is
planning on spending several hundred billion dollars to modernize its
short-range tactical air forces. This seems to be a case in extremes of
putting the modernization cart before the strategy horse. It seems to me that
one would at least want to have some idea of how one we're going to protect
these kinds of forces from missile attack over time as they're deployed to
fixed forward bases. If the price tag for protecting these kinds of systems
also includes massive air and missile defense systems, then maybe there are
better and cheaper ways of modernizing our strike forces.
Do we have a readiness crisis?
If the object of our military is to fight and win quickly and decisively at
little cost to ourselves in the two major theater of wars upon which our
planning is based, then we do have a readiness problem. Let there be no doubt
about it-- the United States military is absolutely not ready for the stated
purpose of the United States military. Everybody knows it. The chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff has testified about it ad nauseum before Congress.
And what does that really mean? What it means is that our military does not
meet the standards that the computer insists our military needs to fight these
two major theater of wars. We don't have enough planes to move stuff from one
place to another. We don't have enough soldiers to fill in the charts that the
computer says need to be filled in. And we don't have the levels of training
proficiency that are required to do these things by the old Cold War standards.
So that's clear.
The real question is whether those standards are relevant. I think it's
terribly important to be able to beat a North Korea that invades South Korea,
or to defeat a Saddam Hussein or counter a move by in Iran, or deter Russia
from doing something silly or to contain a growing hostile power in Asia. All
of that is very important. But the real question is whether the standards by
which we measure the military and its ability to do these things are relevant.
That's where I differ; that's where it's changing. . . . And so long as we get
wrapped around the axle about meeting Cold War-generated readiness standards or
procurement standards or policy standards, we will never be able to move and
change for the very different conflicts of the future. So are we ready? No.
Not according to the standards. But ready for what? That's the real question.
That's the one that needs to be answered.
There's been a readiness crises in the military, and especially in the army,
since the mid-1990s. The former army chief of staff, for whatever reason, went
to the Hill and lied about readiness. I think what we've seen in the 1990s is
a politicization of the service chiefs and the Joint Chiefs overall. The
administration's done a good job of picking primarily weak men, which is why
Shinseki's such a great surprise. But everybody in the army knew. The people
down in the motor pools, at the training ranges, in the battalions and brigades
and divisions knew there were shortages of ammunition, of spare parts, or
training funds. And yet again and again, the chief and the deputies went to
the Hill and said, "Well, everything's pretty good, we could use a little more
of this, but we're doing fine, sir." It wasn't true.
And by the way, the great penalty was that junior officers lost trust in their
leadership. They knew it wasn't true. Lies were being told. And then a few
years ago, the administration gave chiefs permission to tell the truth, and
they went to the Hill and said we have a readiness crisis. John McCain and
others castigated them because the readiness crisis had been obvious to
everybody, except these men who were saying it didn't exist, and now suddenly
it did exist.
We do have a readiness crisis. Money has been misspent. We buy F-22s instead
of taking care of the troops, buying spare parts, fuel, and training. And good
training is what saves you, not the F-22. Yet we are still ready enough for
most contingencies for now. But our readiness declines daily. And we're not
as ready as we could be. It doesn't mean we can't do the job.
It means there are greater risks. It means that you have a greater risk of not
being able to do the mission in a timely manner, of taking more casualties.
There's this lust to buy twentieth-century legacy systems, gold-plated
aircraft, artillery systems, ships that we absolutely do not need. That will
cause casualties. And it's also stealing from the American taxpayer; there's
no other word for it.
Last year, General Campbell rated the Tenth Mountain Division as
C-4: not ready. Was the firestorm over that division and the other unit a
The firestorm occurred in Washington. It didn't occur in that unit and it did
not occur inside the army. Certainly I think General Campbell will share with
you that he felt that he made his assessment, and that his report of C-4 was
intended to get the attention of the army. He could not meet the time lines I
just described to you, given the current condition of his force. As a result,
we addressed his shortfalls to give that capability back to him. It had to do
primarily with being able to get quickly out of Bosnia back to home station;
getting his unit then trained for a war fight; then deploying on the timelines
that he had been asked to meet that war fighting requirement some commander in
chief out there expected of him. And when he did his analysis and could not
meet it, he raised his hand and said, "I've got a problem." The great virtue
in all of this is that you've got a superb young commander, and I think you'll
find him to be exactly someone who had the confidence to make that tough call.
No one does that willingly, but he did and got our attention and we took care
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