Lengthy Operations Deplete Military Readiness
Researchers describe short- and long-term costs of drawn-out conflicts.
Cpl. Kelvin Brodie, USMC, checks radio equipment inside his high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle at Camp Blue Diamond in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. Analysis of U.S. Marine Corps vehicles and communications equipment in Iraq reveals that the protracted engagement there is affecting overall military readiness.
Inadequate funding and prolonged operations in
Researchers at the Center for American Progress,
According to Max A. Bergmann, a research associate at the Center for American Progress and co-author of the final report, both the circumstances that led to the current situation and the solutions to alleviate it are complex. If each is not addressed by both military and civilian leaders, the consequences could be dire, he states.
The research team ascertained that several factors contributed to the lack of equipment. “Part of it is just due to the fact that the military as well as the civilian leadership didn’t believe that we were going to be in
During the past three years, the Marine Corps has employed 40 percent of its ground equipment, 50 percent of its communications equipment and 20 percent of its aviation assets in
To meet the current requirements, the Marines need to develop a new heavy-lift helicopter, Bergmann says. “They’re facing real problems when it comes to even maintaining the current equipment levels into the future. The CH-53 is old, and the service does not have enough of them, but the new version will not be available for 10 to 15 years,” he explains.
Communications equipment shortcomings have occurred as well, although not necessarily in the same ways. Bergmann notes that when the war began in March 2003, the Marine Corps was using several different types of radio systems. As a result, troops in an Abrams tank had to move to different computers or use different cell phones to communicate with SEAL teams, for example. Nothing was streamlined, he says. The military services are investing in streamlining communications technology now, and interoperable blue force tracking equipment is a good example of this effort, he adds.
The Marine Corps was not the only service caught in this dilemma. Researchers from the same organizations that conducted the Marine Corps equipment study examined the U.S. Army earlier last year. They found that the operations in
It has been difficult to modernize and fight the war in
Initial operations were successful, and these problems did not undercut the mission, he allows. “But when you’re in
But funding is only one of the issues that must be addressed when it comes to deploying new capabilities. Innovative technologies require additional training, a task that is tough to schedule when fighting a war. “If you’re not trained well in using it, there’s a point when new technology can undercut your ability and almost create more confusion,” Bergmann maintains. “We’ve all gotten a new device—like a VCR—and we know how the old one works, but we’re not sure how this one works. And we’re not getting shot at when we’re trying to figure out how to use the VCR.”
|The Marine Corps plans to purchase 1,100 Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles (EFVs) to replace its aging fleet of Amphibious Assault Vehicles. Researchers analyzing the current state of equipment suggest that the service order only 600 EFVs and supplement them with U.S. Army armored personnel carriers.|
“The Marine Corps and the Army have been slow to adapt to the reality that they didn’t expect the war to last this long. Eventually you get in the situation where you realize you don’t have the equipment necessary to train the troops.
“They also didn’t reassess their modernization programs and take this into consideration. As a result, they’re caught in a situation where they aren’t modernizing in a way that is most efficient and they are modernizing in a way that is potentially taking money away from other areas that are more nuts-and-bolts issues. It’s a trade-off that the Army and the Marine Corps have been really slow to make,” he says.
Bergmann believes this situation stems from the budget activity that occurred after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At that time, rather than determining what they would need to fight a new type of war, not only the Marine Corps and Army but the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force as well seized the opportunity to obtain financing for pet projects, he claims. “Instead of saying, ‘Why do we need this battleship? Why do we need this helicopter?’ they focused on the big-ticket items. The Army could get Future Combat Systems funding, and the Marine Corps could continue with the V-22,” he says.
Because the services did not reassess priorities then, they must reallocate funding now. To illustrate this point, Bergmann refers to the Army’s request for approximately $25 billion late last year. The service said it needed the additional funds to repair existing equipment; however, it did not relinquish its work on the Future Combat Systems program, which will be in development for another 10 to 15 years. The Office of Management and Budget agreed only to an additional $7 billion. “So they’re being forced to re-jig their priorities. That’s finally happening, but we invaded
Bergmann relates that the most startling statistic the team discovered while conducting its research for the report was the drawdown of reserve equipment. The Marine Corps has equipment stored on standby with a few squadrons in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. To fight the war in
“What that means is that if
Some high-ranking military officials have echoed this assessment of the situation. During a press conference at the Pentagon in October, Gen. Peter Pace, USMC, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized that more than 2 million
One of Bergmann’s colleagues at the Center for American Progress and a co-author of the Marine Corps equipment status report, Lawrence J. Korb, concurs with the assessment and compares the situation to his experience at the Pentagon in the early 1980s. In Korb’s view, it was fortunate that the Soviets did not attack
Bergmann does not believe that today’s
In addition to detailing the shortcomings of the Marine Corps equipment, the research team offered several recommendations about how to address them. In the near term, the team advocates that Congress fully fund the Marine Corps’ request for $6.6 billion reset funding for fiscal year 2007. In addition, Congress should provide approximately $5 billion in reset funding for each additional year the service maintains a major presence in
But resources to replace equipment that is wearing out or has been destroyed in
The team offered some additional recommendations for change in the long term to ensure future readiness. For example, the report suggests that the Marine Corps’ share of the U.S. Navy budget be increased from 14 percent to 17 percent and its share of the defense budget raised from 4 percent to 5 percent.
Aside from the resource recommendations, Bergmann says the research team suggests changes in military thinking that would help restore readiness. For instance, the services not only need to continue to invest in programs such as the Joint Tactical Radio System, but also they must “make them happen,” he states.
In terms of vehicles, the Marines currently are driving antiquated Amphibious Assault Vehicles that are due to be replaced by the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV). Although the EFV is a good weapon system and is faster on the water, the cost has ballooned to the point where the service cannot afford it. “So we recommend cutting that purchase order in half, from about 1,100 to 600 vehicles. To make up for the shortfall, we think the Marines should start looking at other options and start getting creative. The Army’s armored personnel carriers—the Bradley and others—should be purchased by the Marine Corps even though they’re not amphibious because the Marines are fighting in Al Anbar province and don’t need an amphibious capability there,” Bergmann says.
While the research team believes that planning for the future is critical, it should not be done at the expense of meeting current needs, Bergmann adds. “We need to modernize our helicopters, modernize our tanks, Humvees and communications systems, but you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good in this situation. They’re waiting for their next replacement helicopters, which are a long way off and are going to be fantastic. But they need stopgap measures to fill the hole between now and when those are actually available,” Bergmann states.
Addressing these issues is crucial to the current force in ways that cannot be measured, he adds. Equipment shortages affect morale, which can lead to lower re-enlistment rates as troops feel they are not getting the resources they need to do their jobs. “You’re going to have a real recruitment problem, and all of these problems snowball. That’s the danger—that we won’t have a Marine Corps that’s able to be our emergency response force,” he notes.
Industry can help the Marine Corps and Army build up their readiness by offering products that can be deployed today and that perform as promised. While designing future capabilities is important, today’s needs still must be met. “That would be my advice—not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good and to look to technology that we have now to modernize equipment that we have now. Our troops are being shot at now; they can’t really wait that long,” Bergmann states.
Marine Corps Equipment After Iraq report: www.americanprogress.org/issues/2006/08/b681083_ct2892871.html
Center for American Progress: www.americanprogress.org
Lexington Institute: www.lexingtoninstitute.org