Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
May 13, 2001
Maintain World's Best Fighting Force


by: F.R. Duplantier

Our troops must be ready to fight. We must have a ballistic missile defense.

"Since the last comprehensive modernization of America's armed forces nearly 20 years ago, a host of new threats to U.S. security has emerged from the proliferation of ballistic missiles and other advanced military technologies," reports defense expert Jack Spencer of the Heritage Foundation. "Additionally, the U.S. armed forces -- cut by around one third in the past decade -- have been deployed more frequently than they were during the Cold War. Because of these changing pressures," he argues, "the U.S. military must now deal with increasingly aging and obsolete equipment."

Spencer highlights the "higher costs and declining capabilities" of an aging force. "Old equipment costs more to maintain, is less efficient, requires more personnel to operate, often is more expensive to transport, and breaks down more often," he asserts. "Equipment designed decades ago for Cold War conditions simply cannot fulfill the requirements of a modern military force in an ever-changing, technologically advancing world."

According to Spencer and fellow Heritage analyst Baker Spring, "The most pressing needs facing the U.S. armed forces today are assuring near-term readiness and being able to defend America from missiles carrying nuclear, biological, and chemical warheads. Readiness," Spencer and Spring explain, "is the ability of a military unit, such as an Army division, to accomplish its assigned mission. Any country that neglects to maintain a high state of readiness invites aggression from potential adversaries who assume that it is not prepared to defend its interests. A high state of readiness," they contend, "deters potentially hostile nations from acting aggressively in regions of vital national interest, thereby preserving peace."

Although "potential adversaries threaten U.S. national interests in every region of the world," Spencer and Spring observe, "the readiness of U.S. armed forces has declined. Logistics, spare parts, training programs, and morale, all of which contribute to readiness, deteriorated as forces and budgets decreased and non-combat operations increased." They emphasize that "the Department of Defense funds about 80 percent of the cost of non-combat missions like peacekeeping in Kosovo with money from its operations and maintenance accounts -- funds that should be used instead to purchase the supplies upon which readiness depends."

Spencer and Spring report that "the armed forces also face a severe manpower shortage. The Army is falling short on the number of personnel it can assign to critical military specialties," the two analysts assert. "Each of the service branches has experienced problems in recruiting and retaining personnel," they continue. "Moreover, many of the troops that remain in the services are inadequately trained."

Nevertheless, troop readiness is not their primary concern, say Spencer and Spring. "The greatest challenge facing the U.S. military," they argue, "is how to defend Americans from ballistic missile attack. Russia and China are targeting nuclear weapons on the United States and continuing to develop more advanced missiles," Spencer and Spring warn. "North Korea," they add, "is now capable of targeting the United States, and Iran and Iraq will soon have that ability. These nations and others already have shorter range missiles that can target America's allies, friends, and troops abroad."