Caldera Vows to End Army Budget Despair
As the Army's top civilian leader sees it, the service's most daunting challenges are not in the Balkans or other overseas trouble spots, but here at home.
Not only is the Army having a tough time recruiting enough soldiers to meet its quotas, but it also is lagging in its efforts to modernize vehicles and weapons in order to live up to its advertised vision of an information-age, 21st century force.
"We need soldiers but also equipment," said Army Secretary Louis Caldera, in a recent interview at his Pentagon office. One year into his term, Caldera has set two paramount goals. He wants to secure enough funding to replace Vietnam-era helicopters and land vehicles. And he also is determined to continue his life-long crusade of advocating the virtues of military service to America's youth.
"The number one challenge is recruiting," said Caldera. "My response to that is to go out there and talk to young people about why it's important that they serve."
Recruiting soldiers is particularly difficult against the backdrop of a healthy U.S. job market, he explained. But there also are cultural reasons why fewer people choose to join the military. "Military service has not been in the consciousness of most of America's young people as something that is their responsibility," Caldera said.
But advocacy alone is not enough.
Like its sister services, the Army has seen the pace of military deployments around the globe skyrocket during the past six years. A demanding schedule of back-to-back contingencies-compounded by the stresses of drastic post-Cold War budget cuts-had a detrimental effect on force morale and retention rates. No matter how committed soldiers may be, the Army may lose them if their personal and professional needs are neglected, Caldera said.
Demand on Manpower
"We are certainly concerned that we not burn out our troops [even though] soldiers feel they are doing important missions," he said. But it would not be fair to ask the Army to stretch itself without providing additional manpower. "You either have [to have] fewer missions or add more soldiers," said Caldera.
Regardless of its size, the Army cannot continue to delay its modernization program, he added. " I can see the Army modernization program is in a world of hurt ... We are not recapitalizing the equipment that our soldiers need in order to get the job done.
"If we send any of these soldiers into battle ... we are going to want them to have the most modern equipment available to them. But we are not doing that right now. We are not recapitalizing our equipment on a schedule that is responsible and sustainable." The recent budget add-ons by the Clinton administration and Congress have helped, but the funding still comes up short, said Caldera. "You can't get there from here, on the current budget we have."
Caldera estimated the Army needs an additional $5 billion to $7 billion per year to upgrade and replace obsolete equipment. He also said it is time for the Army to acknowledge past mistakes in its modernization plan and take corrective steps.
"We have now deferred and restructured so many programs, reduced quantities, pushed back delivery dates. We have done so many things to make the program fit the budget ... that we now have a serious backlog of equipment needs that cannot all be satisfied all at once, without a substantial increase in modernization dollars."
Caldera will put his clout to test during the next round of Pentagon long-term planning drills, known as the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). It is conducted every four years to set future priorities for the Defense Department.
"We are putting together our strategy today for the next QDR to make sure we emphasize the importance of ground forces," Caldera said. He believes defense planners should take into account the growing responsibilities Army troops have acquired in peacekeeping engagements since the end of the Cold War.
During the recent air war against Yugoslavia, however, the Army was criticized for its lack of speed and mobility. The deployment of two dozen Apache attack helicopters in Albania took several weeks, which, according to critics, is long enough to undermine the element of surprise in a commander's strategy. Caldera explained that, even though the helicopters would have arrived within three days, it took about 500 airlift sorties to haul the necessary support equipment and the 5,000 troops assigned to the mission.
The operation over Kosovo, said Caldera, "really brings home the notion of why it is so important to be able to deploy quickly for maximum impact.
"One of our challenges as part of the modernization program is to make the Army a lighter, more lethal, more agile force that is able to respond more quickly to any kind of contingency mission."
The Army keeps stocks for brigades in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. But if a sizable ground force were needed to keep peace in Kosovo, the Army would have to transport most of the needed equipment from the United States.
"In the future, we have to be able to go anywhere in the world, so it is not enough just to preposition [stocks] in one part of the world," Caldera said.
On the bright side, he said, "We are doing a lot of very exciting programs" aimed at "digitizing the force." This is an across-the-board upgrade to various weapon systems that will involve the use of information technology so that all platforms and soldiers can be linked electronically and know their location on the battle zone at all times.
Ultimately, however, "ground combat is done by soldiers, not machines," he said.
Caldera, meanwhile, believes there is much to be accomplished on the management side of the Army-specifically in areas such as overhead cost cutting.
"When I came to this job, I was pleased to see a revolution in business affairs that the Army is aggressively trying to implement," he said. "I don't think we've gone far enough in some areas. In some cases, we are frustrated we can't do more because of congressional opposition."
This is an obvious reference to the Defense Department's futile attempts to get congressional approval to close unwanted military bases.
Lawmakers repeatedly have turned down Pentagon proposals to have additional rounds of base closures and realignments (BRAC) because they believe the Clinton administration has manipulated the process for political gain.
'We are trying to close empty classrooms," Caldera asserted. "We have excess infrastructure ... It doesn't make sense to maintain empty buildings." As an example, he noted the Army has 38 percent more school buildings than it needs.
Another cost-savings technique favored by Caldera is the A-76 process, which allows the government to open up certain jobs for competitions between public workers and bidding contractors.
"I think the A-76 process has resulted in enormous savings," he said. When government employees win the competitions, "they do it by restructuring their own approach to how to get the job done. We have to find ways of being a more efficient organization ... A-76 helps us do that."
Base closings and competitions for public jobs are valuable, said Caldera, because "we have to help ourselves ... We can't just count on larger appropriations. We need to generate internal savings."
He vowed to support Army employees willing to fight for change. These workers should not fear that, "when they run into the walls of opposition," the leadership will abandon them and not "help them bring programs to success."