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The inability of the military to control weapons costs is creating a severe shortage of funds for operations, maintenance and readiness. Some disturbing consequences: The availability rate of battle-ready fighter planes will decline in the next five years. The Navy is cutting the steaming time of its ships from 44 days per quarter year in 1982 to 42 days per quarter in 1983 and 40 days per quarter in 1984. The Pentagon's planned buildup of ammunition stockpiles has not been accomplished. A maintenance backlog that was supposed to be cleared up this year will last at least until 1985.
Spinney points out that the military continually underestimates the maintenance required for its super sophisticated weaponry. The Air Force projected in the mid-'70s that the advanced F-15 fighter would require eleven maintenance man hours per flight hour and that the mean time between systems failures would be 5.6 hours. In 1980, the plane required 27 man hours of maintenance per flight hour, and the time between failures was a shockingly low 1.2 hours. The complex automatic testing circuits now being used in tanks and planes were supposed to be more than 95% reliable. They turn out to be less than 60% reliable. A review by the Defense Science Board in 1981 is blunt in its criticism of such built-in electronic testing devices: "While these promises looked good on paper and were incorporated into almost all specifications, the actual field performance has been nothing short of a disaster."
Despite these problems, Reagan proposes to increase funds for weapons purchases twice as fast as funds for operations and maintenance. The 1985 budget for operations and maintenance is about the same as Carter had projected, even though allocations for weapons procurement are 50% higher than Carter's totals. Spending for operations and maintenance will decrease from 32.6% of the Defense budget in 1982 to 27.3% in 1988, while the share of funds for procurement will jump from 23.7% to 31%. Funds for personnel costs will decline from 31% to 19% of the budget.
If the Pentagon has underestimated the costs of weapons now in the pipelineand Spinney presents overwhelming evidence that they havethen the readiness crunch will be even worse. When the big bills come due, many of the overruns will likely be paid out of operations and maintenance funds. Under Secretary DeLauer has suggested that the military could cope with this by, for example, using the M-1 tank less extensively for maneuvers than the M60. "If the tanks are sitting around in a garrison, you're not going to spend that much," he says. But Major John Meyers, an Army spokesman, disputes this solution, saying that the M-1 will have to be used more frequently than the M-60 because the Army will have far fewer of them.
In Congress, a loosely knit "reform caucus" of 50 members, ranging from conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats, has tried to steer a course between the hawks, who would give the generals whatever they request, and the doves, who are dedicated to beating all new weapons into food stamps. "Our emphasis is not on where we can cut, but where we can replace with something more cost effective," says Democratic Senator Gary Hart of Colorado, one of the group's founders. Among the leading members are Democratic Senators Carl Levin of Michigan and Sam