t's getting to be an old story in the Army: To maintain the short-term readiness of soldiers and their equipment, modernization programs have been stalled to pay for current operations and maintenance. And while the Army seems to be the force of choice in recent military missions, its popularity is not reflected in the service's procurement budget, which is less than half that of its sister services.
"Modernization has been our bill-payer," says Gen. Dennis Reimer, chief of staff of the Army. "We had to make a choice to take money out of modernization in order to take care of our people. I think that was the right choice. We now have to rebalance the equation and put more toward modernization, and we're trying hard to do that."
The Army's tale of woe isn't likely to change anytime soon. The Clinton Administration's long-term plan doesn't anticipate an infusion of cash into the Army's ailing modernization budget until 1999. Even then, any significant boost is uncertain.
"For the time being, modernization has had to make do with what we could salvage," says Gilbert Decker, assistant secretary of the Army for research, development and acquisition.
A major procurement challenge for the Army has been to maintain development of the RAH-66 Comanche, an armed reconnaissance helicopter and the centerpiece of the Army's aviation modernization program. The program took a $1 billion hit two years ago, forcing the Army to dramatically restructure it as the service shifted funds to pay for other short-term needs. Eventually the Army hopes to purchase 1,300 of these helicopters to replace the AH-1, OH-58 and OH-6 helicopters that currently perform armed reconnaissance, but the Comanche's budgetary setbacks have been nearly fatal. The Administration has requested $289 million for continued development of the program in 1997 and Congress is likely to increase the funding. While the first RAH-66 is not scheduled to become operational until 2006, added dollars could accelerate production. Army officials aren't holding their breath, though.
"The program is in good shape now," Decker says, but future funding is critical. "You worry about that. You worry that [lawmakers'] moods will change."
The Administration also has requested $357 million in procurement funding to upgrade several dozen AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to the Longbow configuration. Under the Apache Longbow program, the helicopters will carry radar-frequency, fire-and-forget Hellfire missiles. The request also includes $23 million in advance procurement funding to support the conversion of additional Apaches in 1998. Both the House and Senate want to increase funding for the Apache Longbow program, providing extra funds to procure new upgraded Apaches and accelerate the delivery of Apache training devices.
The Army also expects to spend $465 million to upgrade M1 Abrams tanks in 1997. The Army is upgrading about 1,000 older M1 tanks to the M1A2 configuration. It has also initiated modification of some M1A2s to enhance their digital command and control capabilities and to add second-generation, forward-looking, infrared sights to improve the tanks' capabilities during times of limited visibility.
The service's Bradley Fighting Vehicle also would get a boost of $134.4 million to procure upgrades for the armored vehicle, and $87 million for research and development in 1997.
While the Administration requested only $9.1 million to spend on the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopter, Congress is likely to give the program a substantial boost. The House would increase funding for the Kiowa to $199 million and the Senate would fund it at $167 million. The helicopter is in its 12th year of production and will eventually be replaced by the Comanche. Early Kiowas are currently being retrofitted with air-to-ground weapons and with other improvements.
Perhaps the Army's biggest procurement problem is that some of it's greatest needs don't inspire much interest among lawmakers. While politicians score big points with their constituents by saving or boosting big-ticket weapons systems like aircraft carriers, submarines and bombers, they don't stand to gain much by promoting trucks.
"There's a whole bunch of unglamorous things in the Army that are absolutely vital to the combat force," Decker says. Among the Army's top underfunded priorities are tactically quiet generators, trucks and water purification systems.
The Army's increased role in operations other than war, such as peacekeeping in Bosnia, has tremendously taxed some of its support equipment, Decker says.
"Who the hell gets excited about a 2 l/2 ton truck? Well, I do. If you are in combat and can't move supplies you're in trouble." The average Army 2 1/2 ton truck is more than 24 years old. Keeping them on the road is vital, particularly for our recent, non-war missions. "You can't do a damn thing in a place like Bosnia--unless you want to go to war--with precision munitions," Decker notes. The fact that the Army has been increasingly tasked with such missions frustrates officials. They see their Navy and Air Force counterparts building multibillion- dollar systems while they can't afford to buy badly needed truck parts.
"Modernization is not where it needs to be. I think we're on the ragged edge now," Decker concludes.
Judging by its success in recent missions, the Army has maintained its readiness remarkably well, even in the face of budget constraints and personnel cuts. But the key to readiness in the future will be its long-term modernization plan. And that's making some Army officials nervous.