On Capitol Hill, U.S. Military Leaders Decry Lack of Spare Parts

By Willingham, Stephen | National Defense, December 1999 | Go to article overview

On Capitol Hill, U.S. Military Leaders Decry Lack of Spare Parts


Willingham, Stephen, National Defense


A lack of readily available spare parts is causing the armed services problems on two fronts, said senior officials.

On the one hand, the difficulty in obtaining spare parts affects the services' combat readiness. On the other hand, the situation is causing frustration in the ranks and is resulting in lower retention rates, military officials told a House Armed Services Subcommittee's panel on military readiness.

These officials complained that skilled workers are leaving the services, in many cases, because they cannot fulfill their job duties without the required replacement parts.

Gen. John G. Coburn, commander of the Army Material Command (AMC), said today's crisis over spare parts can be attributed to several developments. In 1991, after the Gulf War against Iraq ended, the Pentagon enforced significant personnel and inventory cuts, Coburn explained. "We made mistakes in our inventory draw down," he admitted. "In some cases we ordered the wrong things. In others we allowed supplies to run too low."

Sometimes, the problem has to do with human errors, Coburn continued. "A mechanic thinks it's one thing and replaces the part only to discover that the problem hasn't been fixed. Then the unused part gets tossed on a shelf to be used later."

Coburn believes that, following a dry spell, the services now are being adequately funded for spare and replacement parts. He predicted that the practice of taking parts from certain units to support others, called "robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul," will end.

Another problem that contributes to delays is the timely delivery of spare parts, officials said at the hearing. Currently, there can be as much as a two-year backlog for complex items such as aircraft engines.

Rep. Herbert H. Bateman, R-Va. …

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