By Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) - 06/26/07 06:19 PM EDT
To assess the condition of today’s military, consider the statements of the Pentagon’s senior leaders. Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, told Congress that the Marines have examined their ability to execute existing war plans “...and we see that we are lacking in some areas.” Robert Gates, the secretary of defense, has said that if an unexpected threat emerged, “We might not be able to respond according to the timelines we would wish.” And in testimony last spring, then-Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker remarked, “I am not satisfied with the readiness of our non-deployed forces.”
Since 2001, our forces have been engaged in intense ground combat that is wearing down our soldiers and their equipment.
At this time, half of the active Army’s 42 combat brigades are deployed or will soon deploy. A significant portion of the Army’s equipment has followed these soldiers into Iraq, and our reserve stocks of war equipment have been tapped to fill shortages. Units not in combat have either just returned from the fight or are preparing to go, and training times to prepare soldiers for counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been shortened. My question is this: Who is left in case we need our military somewhere else?
It is clear that the stress of continuous operations is rupturing the Army. While I don’t dispute the Army’s claim that the U.S. currently has the best counterinsurgency Army on the planet, I am troubled that our soldiers lack the time and frequently lack the equipment they need to train for other equally serious threats. In spite of being a nation at war, the United States has not fully mobilized to respond to the needs of our military to meet the current mission and to maintain U.S. military readiness.
This year’s National Defense Authorization bill, H.R. 1585, which was unanimously approved by the House Armed Services Committee and received overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, concentrates on our military’s critical readiness needs by setting priorities that will support our troops in the field, enable our nation to meet immediate military requirements, and preserve our ability to deter and respond to future threats.
The centerpiece of bill’s readiness provisions calls for the creation of a Defense Readiness Production Board to identify critical readiness requirements, monitor and assess industrial capacity, and serve as a focal point for Congress and the secretary of Defense on readiness issues. The bill also creates a Defense Production Industry Advisory Council composed of private sector representatives to advise the Board on how best to mobilize the industrial base. Once critical readiness requirements are identified, the services will have access to a $1 billion Strategic Readiness Fund and the Department of Defense will have new procurement authorities to rapidly attend to these pressing needs.
Under the Pentagon’s current plans, critical readiness shortfalls will persist for nearly a decade. The Defense Readiness Production Board will take on these unacceptable delays, mobilizing this nation and its industrial base to create additional industrial capacity and accelerating efforts to replenish our equipment stocks and rebuild our military.
Together with the Board, further readiness initiatives in the defense bill include the authorization of $13.6 billion for the Army and $8.2 billion for the Marine Corps to address equipment reset requirements, $1 billion for National Guard and Reserve equipment from their unfunded requirements list, and $250 million to address training shortfalls throughout the services. Another provision requires the Department of Defense to share its plans on reconstituting our pre-positioned war stocks, which have been seriously depleted. Addressing the repeated deployments that have stretched and strained military personnel, the bill authorizes an increase in the size of the military by 36,000 Army troops and by 9,000 Marines.
As the legislative process moves toward House-Senate conference on the National Defense Authorization bill, I hope to sustain the bipartisan commitment to address today’s urgent readiness challenges. This will not be a simple task, but only by mobilizing American business and industry and the American people will we be able to fix our military readiness problems.
Skelton is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.