Sen. James M. Inhofe promises that the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, which he chairs, will pursue an “ambitious agenda” in the new Congressional session to reverse the erosion in military capability.
“We’ve got to stop the hemorrhaging of readiness,” Inhofe said in an interview.
The nine hearings the Oklahoma Republican plans to hold before the committee marks up the Fiscal 2000 defense authorization will focus on readiness at the operational command level, rather than on the overall services. A senior commander from Air Combat Command will be the leadoff Air Force witness, for example.
The initial hearings also will examine the impact the heavy load of contingency operations is having on readiness, said Inhofe, who fought against US involvement in Bosnia and is “strenuously opposed” to a new commitment in Kosovo.
And because of the expanded jurisdiction of his panel due to a reorganization of Senate Armed Services, Inhofe has scheduled three hearings on the effort to reform Pentagon business practices and financial management.
“We believe there are tens of billions of dollars that can be saved through better business practices,” he said. Those savings can “significantly benefit readiness, modernization, and quality of life in the armed services.”
But the main thrust this year “is to try to get the overall funding for defense up to where the chiefs and the Chairman want it,” Inhofe said, referring to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Hugh Shelton and the other service chiefs.
That will require an additional $25 billion a year in defense spending for six years, he said.
Waiting for the Dough
Although President Clinton said he was adding $112 billion to the six-year defense plan, “the reality is, we never get there,” Inhofe said. That referred to the Administration’s history of offering less in each budget year than had been projected for that year in previous spending plans.
Even in the first year of the new defense plan, Inhofe said, the announced $12 billion increase “really is only $2 billion of new money.” Another $8 billion is in inflation adjustments, credits, and rescissions, and $2 billion is claimed by using the Fiscal 1999 level that Clinton proposed, not what the Pentagon actually got, he said.
“Even if taken at face value, the President’s proposal does not meet the full requirements for military readiness spelled out by the Joint Chiefs in their testimony last November,” Inhofe said in a release. “I believe we can and must do better to provide adequately for our nation’s military strength.”
The Senator conceded that despite the unexpected large surplus predicted next year, the GOP majority cannot provide additional funds for defense within the spending limits, or caps, set by the balanced budget agreement.
“We’re going to have to bust the caps and address it somewhere else,” he said.
That could mean shifting part of the total discretionary spending allowed by the budget act from social programs to the Pentagon budget.
Inhofe pointed out the large increases in defense spending that were approved in the early 1980s to correct the massive readiness problems reflected in what became known as the “hollow force.”
“We could argue that we’re back to that state,” he said.
“I don’t look at this as something that’s not doable,” he declared.
Inhofe said the committee would seek to maintain a “deliberate balance between modernization and quality-of-life issues” in deciding where to add funds.
One of the biggest quality-of-life concerns, he said, is the deplorable state of the services’ family housing and barracks.
“I’ve been in rainstorms in barracks where it rains on you inside,” Inhofe said. “Putting people inside those kinds of buildings is no way to maintain a quality force.”
In a recent press release, Inhofe said national defense will be a key issue on the GOP agenda for the 106th Congress. That is demonstrated by the early push for the service members’ “Bill of Rights” legislation, which would provide the first substantial increase in pay and military benefits in 15 years, he said.
The bill, approved by Senate Armed Services with some Democratic support, would give a 4.8 percent general pay raise, in place of the Administration’s proposed 4.4 percent hike. It also would provide for higher pay hikes for midcareer personnel and restoration of the 50 percent retired pay after 20 years.
“Republicans in Congress are determined to restore national defense to the priority it deserves on the national agenda,” Inhofe said.
Clinton’s “Anti-Military” Legacy
“In a world of growing threats, we must begin to reverse the debilitating anti-military legacy of the Clinton years. We must take bold steps to improve readiness and morale, to embark on a long-delayed modernization of our forces, and to commit to the deployment of the most affordable and technologically feasible national missile defense system,” he said in the statement.
The President’s proposed defense budget “remains inadequate to the needs that are unfilled and the threats that are growing,” Inhofe said.
An experienced civilian pilot, Inhofe also objected to the new budget’s proposed level of funding for flight hours, particularly for the Air Force.
Of the four categories of flight hours set out in the budget, one is increased by what amounts to “six minutes per month” while two others “are down considerably,” he said.
In addition to cutting flight hours, “they’re also bringing down the advanced combat training at Nellis [AFB, Nev.] by one-third,” he added.
That vital training is being cut “because they are starved for funding,” Inhofe said.
The money is going to pay for “deployments to areas where we shouldn’t be … instead of keeping skills where they should be,” he said, citing particularly the Balkans.
Inhofe recalled that he has made many visits to Air Force and Navy installations in an attempt to find the causes of plunging pilot retention rates and that the departing aviators cited concerns over poor maintenance, lack of spare parts, and excessive cannibalization.
The pilots are not leaving just because there are a lot of jobs on the outside, he said, contending, “It’s the loss of mission in this country. That’s what those guys say.”
Inhofe is a staunch, unwavering member of the Congressional Depot Caucus who has resisted DoD efforts to outsource jobs and has been one of the strongest opponents of additional rounds of base closing. As such, his new focus on saving money by improving Pentagon business practices and management may seem to be something of a switch. However, Inhofe states plainly that he thinks there is a place for some privatization of defense jobs, but not in all areas. The services can save large sums by improving the acquisition process and other business practices, he added.
Inhofe said his feelings on reauthorizing the Base Realignment and Closure Commission process “is unchanged.” By that, he said, “I believe we have excess infrastructure and we ought to do something about it. I’m not opposed to BRAC, but we saw the President and [Vice President] Al Gore politicize that issue the last time,” he said.
Inhofe referred to Clinton’s efforts to soften the economic blow of the 1995 BRAC decision to close USAF Air Logistics Centers at Kelly AFB, in San Antonio, and at McClellan AFB, in Sacramento, Calif. On the eve of his 1996 re-election campaign, Clinton promised the citizens in the two vote-rich states a “privatization in place” program that could have meant private contractors taking over most of the government jobs at the two depots, instead of transferring the work to other ALCs.
That would have left the three remaining Air Force depots–including Oklahoma City ALC in Inhofe’s state–underutilized and vulnerable for closure in another BRAC round.
In the first rounds of the closely watched competition between public depots and private aerospace contractors, however, the Air Force awarded most of the McClellan workload to the Ogden ALC, at Hill AFB, Utah, and to Boeing, a private contractor using old Air Force facilities at Kelly.
The last portion of the 1995 controversy was resolved Feb. 12 when the Air Force awarded a contract that would have the effect of shifting to another location most of the engine repair work that until now has been performed at Kelly. The winner of the new 15-year, $10.2 billion contract was a publicprivate industrial team led by the Oklahoma City ALC, which is located at Tinker AFB, Okla.
“This decision affirms essential fairness in the BRAC process, which had been called into question during the 1995 base closing round,” Inhofe said in a statement. He also noted that the contract “means more jobs and security for Tinker.”
Inhofe now wants to study the Kelly contract process in detail. “Assuming he’s satisfied it was a fair and reasonable process, he’s leaning toward supporting another round of BRAC,” spokesman Gary Hoitsma said.
Until the latest contract award, Inhofe had always maintained that, because “this President has demonstrated that he will circumvent the BRAC process if it’s to his advantage,” he could not support additional closure rounds while Clinton is in office and “until they fulfill the requirements in the 1995 BRAC report.”
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, a former Republican Senator, has asked Congress to authorize BRAC rounds in 2001 and 2005, both of which would come after Clinton leaves office.
Inhofe said he also objected to the way the old process forces every community with a military installation to endure “BRAC purgatory” until the commissions issue their final reports. The most recent BRAC rounds saw potentially vulnerable communities spend millions of dollars hiring lobbyists “to protect their interest” during the process, he said.
If the services would be more specific in the kinds of bases they need to close, a lot of communities would not have to go through that process, Inhofe said.
He and others pressed Cohen during the initial defense budget hearings to provide that kind of information.
Although Cohen implied that the services do not have a list of bases they would like to close, Inhofe said they must, or they could not offer such precise predictions of how much they would save through two more closure rounds.
A lot of Inhofe’s own constituents could experience BRAC purgatory in any future rounds as his state is home to two large installations–Tinker AFB and the Army’s Ft. Sill–and two smaller Air Force bases-Altus and Vance.
National Missile Defense
Inhofe is one of the Senate’s strongest advocates of ballistic missile defense, particularly championing a national defensive system to protect the US homeland from attack.
He gets openly angry over Clinton’s declaration in his State of the Union speech two years ago that “not one missile is aimed at American children.”
Even if the Russians really have removed the targeting data on American cities from their nuclear-armed missiles in response to the US detargeting agreement, Inhofe said, “He knew Chinese missiles were aimed at us.”
And although most Americans believe the nation has the missile defense shield that then-President Ronald Reagan first advocated in 1983, there is no such system, and the US would not be able to block a single incoming missile, he said.
In a statement after Clinton’s most recent State of the Union address in January, Inhofe complained that the President never mentioned missile defense in the 77-minute speech.
He noted that when Cohen made an announcement on missile defense the following day, he finally acknowledged that “what Republicans had been saying for the last three years was true: that the missile threat to the United States is real, immediate, and growing.”
But the Administration has still refused to commit to deployment of a national system, deferring a decision until mid-2000, Inhofe said. And Cohen delayed the expected date for an operational national defense by two years, to 2005, he noted.
Although the land-based system currently being planned for the national defense has not been developed or tested, Inhofe and others believe that a limited national shield could be provided sooner by using the Navy Upper Tier theater missile defense system.
The Navy Upper Tier, or theaterwide system, also has not been tested. But it would build on the lower tier or area defense system being developed to use the capabilities of the powerful Aegis air-defense systems on a fleet of Navy cruisers and destroyers.
Inhofe supports the decision in the Fiscal 2000 budget to combine funding for the Navy Upper Tier program and the Army’s Theater High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system, which has had five straight test failures.
“I’ve felt all along that Navy Upper Tier is the sensible way to go,” he said.
By concentrating funds on the Navy program, Inhofe said, the nation could have in place in 18 months a sea-based system that could defend deployed forces and much of the United States against small-scale missile attacks.
Inhofe served in the US Army, but he has become a strong advocate of air superiority and airpower. He supports provision of full funding for the big tactical aircraft programs, including the Air Force’s F-22 fighter and the multiservice Joint Strike Fighter.
He also supports the planned improvements in strategic airlift capabilities, including buying extra C-17s and improving the C-5s.
Inhofe also is a champion of the National Guard and Reserves, pointing to the increasing reliance all of the services place on their part-time warriors in the current rash of contingencies.
He plans to have the Army National Guard commander testify in the same readiness hearing with the commanders of the Army’s four active duty combat corps.
“That will send a good message to the Army and the Guard,” he said.
Inhofe said that, after clearing the authorization, his panel will hold more hearings into the readiness of the Special Operations Command and US forces in Korea, the status of the arsenals, ammunition plants, and munitions requirements, and pre-positioned assets.
The subcommittee then will examine the status of family housing privatization programs, training for combat in urban terrain, just-in-time logistics, maintenance, and wartime sustainability.
And, with the dual interest as the military readiness panel chairman and as a Senator from an oil-producing state, Inhofe plans to hold a hearing on the potential threat that the nation’s growing dependence on foreign oil poses to military readiness and national security.
America currently imports over 56 percent of its oil needs, which is more than it took in prior to the second major oil crisis, which erupted in the late 1970s. “Today, our domestic oil and gas industry is in crisis,” he said. “Domestic producers are overregulated compared to their overseas competitors, and many are being forced to sell below cost because of the flood of foreign imports. This situation not only threatens readiness but also increases our vulnerability to armed conflicts in other parts of the world.”
Otto Kreisher is the national security reporter for Copley News Service, based in Washington, D.C. His most recent article for Air Force Magazine, “Desert One,” appeared in the January 1999 issue.