National Guard equipment readiness has plummeted in recent years, hampering the service’s ability to respond to domestic emergencies, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Investigations and Oversight.
“National Guard readiness has been compromised by rotations abroad, most notably as part of the global war on terror,” Blum said.
While equipment readiness was not at 100 percent before 9/11, it now stands at a low 50 percent, which means the Guard will in some cases be unable to respond to regional disasters, he said.
Overseas deployments for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a hefty toll on Guard equipment. Recently, the equipment has stayed in-theater to be used by replacement units, which has created a shortfall at home, Blum said.
Unfortunately, most of the equipment left overseas is the kind needed for disaster response, he said. Blum presented a list of 10 categories that included 342 items of equipment that are “absolutely essential” for maintenance, aviation, engineer, medical, communications, transportation, security, and logistics and power generation.
Aging equipment and wartime losses have exacerbated the shortfall problem. Maj. Gen. Robert French, deputy adjutant general of joint force headquarters, Pennsylvania National Guard, lamented the fact that the Guard is operating 40-year-old trucks for disaster response. Blum argued that those trucks are here in the United States because they are not good enough to go to war, but they are being used by the Guard.
Rotary-wing aircraft such as UH-60s and CH-47s are in short supply because of wartime losses, said Maj. Gen. Roger Lemke, adjutant general of Nebraska. These aircraft are essential to supporting large disasters like Katrina, he said.
The Defense Department has proposed allocating $22 billion for equipment over the next five years, but even those funds will only take the Guard to 75 percent readiness, which is the level at which it stood before 9/11.
“We are in a post-9/11 world, and I am not certain that those levels match today’s requirements, Blum concluded.