May 02, 2005 Troops ready, but gear needs boost, leaders say Equipment sustains up to 15 years of wear every year By Rick Maze Times staff writer Readiness of deployed units is adequate today, but there are troubling signs for the future, senior combatant commanders told a Senate subcommittee. The problem, senior combatant commanders told the Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee, is simply that the pace of operations is causing equipment to wear out faster than it can be fixed or replaced. Deployed units are getting priority for scarce equipment and supplies. But ensuring they are fully equipped leads to difficulties in providing equipment to other units training for deployment or to make time for the extensive maintenance that is required on so much equipment. The war in Iraq is burning through military equipment at five to 10 times the peacetime training rate, and the services will have to spend $13 billion to $18 billion to replace it, congressional budget experts said earlier this month. The services have asked for $12 billion in the 2005 emergency supplemental funding request to replace worn-out vehicles and equipment, but the Congressional Budget Office said current operations are wearing out vehicles at a rate of $8 billion per year. CBO released its cost estimates April 6 at a hearing of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee. The services themselves calculate they have unfunded equipment losses of $13 billion. But the CBO said itâs too soon to provide an exact estimate. Army materiel has borne the brunt of the war. About 60 percent of the $13 billion to $18 billion will be needed to replace worn-out Army equipment, the CBO said. About 20 percent will go to the Air Force and somewhat less to the Marine Corps, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, CBO director. The estimates are for equipment losses through the end of 2005, Holtz-Eakin said. If forces and operations remain at current levels in the years ahead, the services would need about $8 billion a year to replace worn-out equipment. At the April 20 hearing, all of the commanders said the military would or could respond if called upon, but the Army and Marine Corps, in particular, are showing the wear and tear of constantly rotating large ground forces into Iraq. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Sattler, commander of I Marine Expeditionary Force, said that because it was important to leave equipment behind in Iraq for arriving units, some âcross-levelingâ is underway, and equipment from other locations around the world is being shipped to Camp Pendleton, Calif., for use in training. âItâs a shell game, and somebody doesnât have a pea under their shell,â Sattler said. âIt is a problem right now. We do not have the necessary equipment if you were to send us to war tomorrow.â A particular need is sophisticated communications gear, which is now considered essential but is not part of prepositioned stockpiles. Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, the subcommitteeâs ranking Democrat, raised concerns about readiness because he worries the stress on people and equipment may have been a contributing factor to several recent aircraft accidents in deployed units. He also is worried about how units deploying to Iraq will get essential training if there is not enough equipment available for deployment and training while keeping up a baseline maintenance rate on some gear. âThe same piece of equipment cannot be in two places at once,â Akaka said. âThe Army is in a very similar situation,â said Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, commander of III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas. Metz said the problem would continue for years, and probably would require large purchases of new equipment as replacements because some items have been overused to such a degree that they are not worth fixing. Metz said one year of deployment appears to put the equivalent of four to five years of normal use on wheeled and tracked vehicles. The 1st Cavalry Divisionâs assessment of the wear and tear on its gear shows an even starker ratio â the equivalent of 10 to 15 years of use for every year of deployment. Such heavy use makes it almost impossible for units to have their equipment repaired so they are ready to redeploy in 180 days, the Armyâs goal, Metz said. In the short term, the services are finding equipment for deployed units and their next-in-line replacements, but at some point, equipment, vehicles and gear will have to be replaced because they can only be repaired so many times, officials said. Aviation units also are suffering, although not to the same degree as ground units. Lt. Gen. Walter Buchanan III, commander of the U.S. Central Command Air Forces, and Rear Adm. Barry McCullough, commander of Carrier Strike Group Six, said their biggest readiness problem is ensuring that units are deploying with the newest technology, particularly targeting gear.