Defense panel pushes quality of life improvements

A panel commissioned by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recommended Wednesday that the Defense Department make vast improvements to military housing and bases, and dramatic changes in the military personnel system.

"We have too many bases and those bases have too many old structures on them," said retired Adm. David Jeremiah, a member of the panel. Poor working conditions at many military installations and the poor quality of military housing gives the impression that workers and service members are not important, he said.

The quality of life study, along with another review released Tuesday that focused on how to transform the military, are part of a comprehensive review of defense posture Rumsfeld is undertaking at President Bush's request. To illustrate the kinds of infrastructure problems that pervade the Defense Department, Jeremiah displayed pictures of a damaged F-15 fighter that fell into a deteriorated sewer grate on a runway at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. The F-15 sustained about $185,000 in damage; the sewer grate would have cost about $500 to fix, but the money wasn't available for maintenance. "It's damage that was entirely preventable," he said. The quality of life panel also recommended improving military pay for some enlisted personnel and targeting pay increases for particular skills, such as information technology specialists. Targeted pay is an issue that has been considered in the past, but remains controversial. Critics have suggested that it would lead to a situation where people with particular skills are earning more than front-line combat troops, which could demoralize troops. Other personnel recommendations included revising the retirement system to allow some people to retire earlier, and reforming the military's up-or-out promotion system to allow some people to serve longer when their skills warrant it. The panel also suggested creating a partnership with the civil air industry, to ensure there are adequate pilots and mechanics in the pipeline for both military and civilian future needs, Jeremiah said. The military transformation study recommended dedicating a portion of U.S. forces to create a joint force with shared command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, which could be easily modified to respond to a range of contingencies. The joint force would include rapidly deployable ground forces and long-range precision strike capabilities, according to retired Air Force Gen. James McCarthy, who led the study at the Institute for Defense Analysis, a federally funded research and development center. While the concept of creating a joint force is not new, a truly joint force has never been attempted other than on an ad hoc basis for specific missions.

"The services are very, very capable, but they still have not learned, and they have not trained and have not exercised sufficiently for us to claim we have a true joint force capability," said McCarthy. Transforming a small portion of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force into a truly joint fighting force could significantly enhance American military capability, he said. The recommendation for a joint force would build on some of the services' current modernization plans. The panel recommended accelerating some weapons programs it believes would contribute to transformation, as well as increasing investment in research and development. Among the specific program recommendations, the panel would:

  • Convert four Trident submarines to carry cruise missiles.
  • Enhance the B-2 bomber force to carry a larger payload.
  • Accelerate deployment of an improved version of the unmanned aerial vehicle Global Hawk.
  • Accelerate the Navy's version of the Joint Strike Fighter.
  • Develop stealthy joint long-range cruise missiles.
  • Develop a new long range precision strike capability.
McCarthy said the panel supported the controversial Marine Corps V-22 tilt-motor aircraft program and the Air Force F-22 fighter program, but did not recommend accelerating the programs. He said the panel did not believe the Navy's next-generation aircraft carrier or destroyer shipbuilding programs contributed significantly to military transformation. While both panels' recommendations won't necessarily be endorsed in full, it is widely believed they will form the basis for reforms expected to be announced later this year. The panels' findings will also be incorporated into the ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review, which is to be released in September.
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