U.S. Military Readiness Fair as Skills Weaken Some Forces Face Critical Shortages

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Amid a rising political debate over the state of the U.S. military, the Pentagon yesterday issued a report contending that readiness is improving despite persistent problems.

In a quarterly analysis for Congress, defense officials reported that current strains on readiness would increase the risk of U.S. casualties if the United States were forced to fight two big regional wars simultaneously. The ability to handle a two-front fight has been a central goal of American military planners.

Yet the report asserts that the services "remain capable of executing" the national military strategy in an emergency, and claims that "the overall readiness of our forces is improving."

Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush and running mate Dick Cheney have given prominence to the military readiness issue, charging that the Clinton administration has allowed the military to suffer from overwork, poor morale and aging equipment.

But the Pentagon report contends that two years of military spending increases have begun to relieve shortages in spare parts, and cites some improvement in the services' ability to recruit and retain personnel.

At the White House, chief spokesman Joe Lockhart insisted that the military is in better shape today than when President Bush ended his term in January 1993. The United States retains "the best fighting force in the world," he said.

The quarterly report said that the readiness strains could cause various problems if the armed forces were called on to fight simultaneous wars.

The report acknowledges that the Air Force faces shortages in many critical job skills, and in spare parts. The Army, likewise, has a shortage of enlisted personnel in some skill areas, as well as in officers at the captain rank.

The report cites vulnerabilities in naval aviation. …