Typical of the comments recorded at the top of the story:
"You'd better hope we never have a war again," the House Armed Services Committee chairman, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., said of the decline in what the military calls its readiness.Notice that the quotation from an actual expert (as opposed to a Congressman with heavy defense contracts in his district) buried later on in the story is quite different:
Analysts say a decade of massive spending increases have built a strong force superior to anything else out there. "We could certainly fight another war on the order of the first Gulf War (1991) without any problems; the Air Force could do air strikes in Syria," said Barry M. Blechman of the Stimson Center think tank. "We wouldn't want to get involved in another protracted war (like Iraq and Afghanistan), but in terms of the types of military operations we typically get involved in, we're prepared for that."Supposedly, even though the intel is classified, the US Army is putting it out there that only two of our 35 combat brigades are at Readiness Level 1, and that in a few years the lack of training time and equipment replacement will severely erode our ability to fight a conventional war.
What utter crap.
Here's what you need to know:
1. Readiness levels are a political football as much as they are an objective measure, and experts have been calling for a revision in the system for years. Ironically, three months ago, before all this fear-mongering (read "budget maneuvering" started), most experts suggested just the opposite of what the US military is saying today:
Eaglen, a member of the Breaking Defense Board of Contributors and a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said the “only silver lining is that some Army leaders have said the service is today the most ready it’s been in four decades. This means that readiness reductions will start from an historic high point and be more easily reversible, if desired, at some point in the future.”2. The US military has the highest percentage of veterans at every level of enlisted, NCO and officer ranks than it has had since the end of the Vietnam era. This is both good news and bad news. The good news, of course, is that we now have battle-tested troops and leaders at every level; military experts and historians will tell you that the "soft" edge of veteran experience is huge. The bad news, naturally, is that many of these troops are exhausted from the political errors that have resulted in long deployments supported by inadequate resources to deal with employment transition, suicide, PTSD, and sexual assault. The irony, of course, is that none of this will be cured or addressed by spending more money on weapon systems or training, only by investing in the PEOPLE of the US military.
Want an idea of just how important the Pentagon DOESN'T think our troops and their families are? Instead of investing in them, War Secretary Chuck Hegel has proposed closing all of the stateside commissaries that allow military families (many of whom qualify for SNAP food assistance) to purchase their groceries cheaper than they could at nearby supermarkets.
3. The US military needs to scale down, and there are only three possible routes for doing so.
A. The haphazard route followed during the Clinton years when Pentagon insiders struggled against each other not to cut the military in a reasonable manner, but to protect their individual empires, resulting in an out-of-balance force that was arguably very compromised.
B. By developing a system of "tiered readiness" that keeps a certain number of brigades on high readiness, and maintains the others on lower readiness pending the outbreak of war. Ironically, as military leaders and their Congressional allies rail against this idea, it is important to understand that this is EXACTLY the policy followed throughout most of the Cold War, when we were at least theoretically facing a large, conventional Soviet threat in Europe. Right now the largest conventional military ground threat out there is in Korea, and we don't have the lift capacity to get more than a half dozen brigades into the theater during the first several months anyway.
C. By reducing the number of active-duty combat brigades from 35 to 25, with similar cuts across the services, and an increased phase-out of obsolete ships in the US Navy. The reality? That would allow us to maintain 8 combat brigades and assorted support elements at the ready consistently, fully manned and equipped, and fully capable of fighting a conventional action against any enemy currently on our radar. But that one, of course, would require political courage.