Weapon Shortages Prove Need For Strong U.S. Industrial Base

By Lawrence F. Skibbie

This month I want to discuss with you three apparently disparate, but actually connected issues. They are: Kosovo, the impact of fuel costs on the defense budget, and investment shortfalls in modernization.

Let me first describe each issue individually and then propose the connection.

With regard to Kosovo, as has been extensively reported, after approximately four weeks of a very limited war against Yugoslavia, the Air Force is running dangerously low on air-launched cruise missiles. The inventory is reported to be at a level of approximately 90 missiles, which is about the same quantity that was used last December in operation Desert Fox against Iraq.

Prior to that time, the Air Force reported that it had 250 of the cruise missiles, which had been converted from nuclear to conventional use. Unfortunately, the plant that performed the conversion was shut down more than a year ago. Today, cruise missiles are the weapons of choice because they are unhampered by weather, they are precise, and they minimize the risk to pilots, as well as collateral damage.

One must wonder how long it will take to replenish the inventory of these weapons in order to meet U.S. defense requirements. Is there a production line in place? How long will it take to activate the assembly line? Are there other munitions in similar short supply?

To be sure, the problem has been acknowledged by senior defense leaders. Deputy Defense Secretary John J. Hamre noted during last month's NDIA Tech Trends 2000 conference that "there has been concern about the inventory of certain weapons." He also said that the Defense Department still believes it has adequate stocks to be able to undertake this operation and have a reserve.

Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition and Technology Jacques S. Gansler also addressed the issue at the same conference. "Original plans for use were much lower than they are today. We have been using them at a higher rate than anticipated."

Retired Air Force General Larry Skantze pointed out that this was, more than anything, a budgetary problem. "The Air Force took a conservative view when it placed its orders because it was watching its dollars," he said. "Who would have predicted they would be conducting a three-to-four week campaign using so many cruise missiles?" Skantze added. These observations point to the reality of today's budgetary environment: when money is tight, the services are forced to cut back on acquisitions and, in some cases, to cut corners.

The bottom line is that if the Air Force depletes its inventory of cruise missiles, it will take at least two years before another missile comes off the assembly line, regardless of whether it is a conversion or a new system.

Now, to the problem of fuel costs. It has become obvious from the prices displayed at gas stations that fuel costs have increased by approximately 25 percent in a matter of months. This has a significant impact on the defense budget. The Administration increased the fiscal year 2000 budget by $12 billion. At the time, NDIA noted (President's Perspective, February 1999) that the $12 billion was composed of $4 billion in new money, with $8 billion from constrained inflation and fuel savings resulting from depressed oil prices. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the impact of the fuel price increases on the defense budget has yet to be fully assessed. However, it is reasonable to assume that part of the $12 billion budget increase has now evaporated.

The consequence of this shrinking defense budget is that funding shortfalls are offset by reductions in modernization investments, which in turn, affect the long term readiness of our forces.

Now, to shortfalls in modernization investments.

At a recent NDIA Washington Chapter Luncheon, Navy Secretary Richard Danzig made several points, one of which was that the services tend to perpetuate a mentality of conscription. By this he meant that, for example, the Navy still employs sailors to chip paint, as well as to walk the decks of aircraft carriers checking for foreign objects. Danzig's message was that machines can do both of these jobs better, but the services have failed to make the necessary capital investments to trade human power for modern equipment.

The secretary makes a convincing case. On the one hand, the services must be credited for being at the forefront on issues such as equal opportunity and gender integration. But, on the other hand, they have fallen behind other sectors of the economy where investments in automation have helped to offset manpower requirements. The continuing shortfalls in modernization budgets, therefore, exacerbate this problem.

These investments also are needed to entice young people to join the services. Highly-motivated and computer-literate high-school graduates increasingly will be unlikely to choose a military career if they don't perceive the services are on the cutting edge of technology. At a time when three of the services are failing to meet recruiting quotas, there is ample reason to be concerned about both the quantity and the quality of the 21st century force.

Now, to how these three issues are tied together. Unfortunately they all have to do with money! Unless we resource our national security programs-so that they support long-term readiness, which is really modernization, as well as near-term readiness-we are going to continue to face shortfalls in weaponry. And we will continue to experience manning levels which are unachievable in our full-employment economy because Defense has not been provided the funds with which to trade manpower for equipment.

Topics: Budget, Warfare

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