GENERAL HENRY H. SHELTON
CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF
BEFORE THE SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE
SEPTEMBER 29, 1998
Mr. Chairman and distinguished Senators:
I am honored to appear again before this committee, along with the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to give you our assessment of the readiness of the US Armed Forces.
Let me put the bottom line up front. As I told the President two weeks ago, and as I have previously testified before this committee, we have great Armed Forces today. They are ready to execute the National Military strategy, including two overlapping major theater wars, while continuing to meet our many security obligations around the world. We can all be enormously proud of the outstanding job our young men and women in uniform are doing every day in support of our nation’s global interests, responsibilities, and commitments.
But, I must also note up front that our forces are showing increasing signs of serious wear. Anecdotal and now measurable evidence indicates that our current readiness is fraying and that the long-term health of the Total Force is in jeopardy. In a few moments, each of the Service Chiefs will discuss the challenges with which each of them has been grappling. I would like to take a few minutes at the outset to provide my assessment as a backdrop for their remarks and to highlight what I believe should be our priorities as we strive to maintain the world’s finest military force.
First, let me point out that our recent readiness shortfalls are the result of the Fiscal Year 1998 budget and of some unanticipated factors that I will discuss in a moment.
We have known for several years that 1998 would be tough and that our commanders would face an enormous challenge balancing the competing priorities of maintaining current readiness, taking care of our people, and providing for future readiness through modernization. It has not been easy. Although we have successfully maintained the readiness of our forward deployed and "first-to-fight" forces, it has not been without cost to the rest of the force.
There have been several unanticipated factors that have made our efforts to maintain current readiness in 1998 even more challenging than we expected:
First, the US military has been far busier than we anticipated just 18 months ago when we completed the Quadrennial Defense Review. From continuing operations in Bosnia, Haiti, and the Persian Gulf, to conducting contingency operations like non-combatant evacuations in Albania and Africa, the demand for US military presence and capabilities has been very high.
Second, the higher-than-expected operational tempo has also meant higher-than-anticipated wear on equipment. This, combined with significant increases in the cost of repair parts, has produced shortages of spare parts and maintenance backlogs.
Third, there also have been unit, personnel, and base reductions, as well as some privatization initiatives that were programmed but could not be carried out as planned.
Fourth, after the Services and DOD carefully shaped the Defense budget to balance our competing requirements, "fine tuning" it to get just the "right mix," the Congress, with the best of intentions, moved some things forward and added some items that were not requested. This altered the delicate balance and created shortfalls in other areas that caused problems for us.
Finally, the "good news" regarding our nation’s continuing strong economy has been "bad news" for our recruiting and retention. We have struggled to recruit bright young people and to keep them from opting for higher paying jobs in the private sector after completing their enlistment.
If these trends and constraints continue into 1999, and some undoubtedly will, we will certainly face some difficult decisions again in balancing current readiness against modernization, against maintenance of our operational infrastructure, and against taking care of our people. In short, without relief we will see a continuation of the downward trends in current readiness, from decreased mission capable rates for aircraft to depot maintenance backlogs and shortfalls in critical skills--the whole range of problems that have become apparent in the second half of this Fiscal Year.
Of course, the impact of these factors on current readiness in the coming year will be dramatically compounded if we do not receive the additional supplemental funds requested for Bosnia and for our vigorous response to the terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa.
As I said earlier, the Chiefs will provide insights on their Service-specific challenges in a moment. But before we get to that I want to address one final issue, one that is critical to both our current readiness and our future readiness--the enormous challenge we all face in sustaining the superb quality of the people in our military today.
We have spoken a great deal about the challenge of "balancing" competing requirements: readiness, modernization, and taking care of our people and their families. It is clear to me that the time has come to send a strong signal to the men and women of the US military that we will not ask them to bear the burden of that "balancing."
In our recent efforts to "balance" these important and competing requirements we have allowed the pay of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to fall well behind that of their civilian counterparts. One can argue about how large the pay gap is depending on the base-year selected, but the estimates range from 8.5 percent to 13.5 percent. Few deny that the gap is real.
Another key factor seriously affecting our force today is the different retirement system for the most junior two-thirds of the force. In 1986, Congress changed the Armed Forces retirement system to one that is increasingly perceived by our military members as simply not good enough to justify making a career of military service.
If we fail to address these critical personnel issues, we will put at risk one of our greatest achievements of the last quarter century: the All-Volunteer Force.
It is the quality of the men and women who serve that sets the US military apart from all potential adversaries. These talented people are the ones who won the Cold War and ensured our victory in Operation Desert Storm. These dedicated professionals make it possible for the United States to accomplish the many missions we are called on to perform around the world every single day.
Mr. Chairman, in the letter in which you invited me to come here today you asked me to consider what my priorities would be if additional funding was made available for Defense in the coming fiscal year (FY 99) and beyond.
As I have said, we may well face some continued serious shortfalls in our current readiness accounts even with the increased funds provided for Fiscal Year 1999. And as I noted in my letter to you on 23 September, the Bosnia emergency funding and the additional money needed for our readiness accounts are very important. But if I had to choose the area of greatest concern to me, I would say that we need to put additional dollars into taking care of our most important resource, the uniformed members of the Armed Forces.
The best tanks, planes, and ships in the world are not what make our military the superb force that it is today. They are great multipliers. Advanced technology and modern weapons systems are important, for sure, and that’s why we continue to support additional BRAC rounds to help finance future modernization programs. But even the finest high-tech equipment will never be the determining factor on the battlefield.
The most critical element of both current and future readiness is the men and women we are privileged to have serving in uniform today. Our people are more important than hardware. We must do whatever is necessary to sustain the quality of our people because quality is more important than quantity.
We already see troubling signs that we are not on the path to success in that effort. Our retention rates are falling, particularly in some of our most critical skills, like aviation and electronics, the very skills that are in demand in our vibrant economy. And we are having to work much harder to attract the motivated, well-educated young people we need to operate our increasingly complex systems.
So, Mr. Chairman, my recommendation is to apply additional funding to two very real, very pressing concerns. First, we need to fix the so-called REDUX retirement system and return the bulk of our force to the program that covers our more senior members-- that is, a retirement program that provides 50 percent of average base pay upon completion of twenty years of service. Second, we must begin to close the substantial gap between what we pay our men and women in uniform and what their civilian counterparts with similar skills, training, and education are earning.
As I said earlier, there are differing estimates about the magnitude of the pay gap and there are several timelines that could be considered for closing that gap. But we must act soon to send a clear signal to the backbone of our military--our mid-grade commissioned and non-commissioned officers. We must demonstrate also that their leadership and this Congress recognize the value of their service and their sacrifice, and that we have not lost sight of our commitment to the success of the All-Volunteer Force.
Mr. Chairman, this Congress has already taken an important first step in this process by supporting a 3.6 percent pay adjustment for the military in 1999, preventing the pay gap from growing wider still. The President has pledged support for a 4.4 percent pay raise in the Fiscal Year 2000 budget and for adjustments in subsequent years at the ECI rate to at least prevent further widening of the pay gap.
I assure you, Mr. Chairman, that the troops and their families appreciate this very much; but, as I have noted, that will not be enough. As we develop the Fiscal Year 2000 budget proposal, we will take a hard look at what must be done on core compensation issues such as pay and retirement to maintain the quality of the people in the military. No task is more important.
As a follow-up to his meeting with the Joint Chiefs and the Unified Commanders earlier this month, the President sent a letter to Secretary Cohen directing the Department to work with the Office of Management and Budget to identify requirements for increased Defense spending in Fiscal Year 2000 and beyond. Secretary Cohen and I, together with the other Joint Chiefs and the Service Secretaries, look forward to working with the White House, with this Committee, and with the Congress as a whole to ensure we have the right program and sufficient funding to provide for the long-term health and readiness of the American Armed Forces into the next century.
Right now the force is fundamentally sound, but the warning signals cannot and should not be ignored. Let me use an aviation analogy to describe our current situation. In my view, we have "nosed over" and our readiness is descending. I believe that with the support of the Administration and Congress, we should apply corrective action now. We must "pull back on the stick" and begin to climb before we find ourselves in a nosedive that might cause irreparable damage to this great force we have created, a nosedive that will take years to pull out of.
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to share my views with the committee, and I look forward to answering the Committee’s questions later in the session.