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Air Force Readiness Hits Low

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Air Force readiness to fight a war slumped in recent months to its lowest level in 15 years, declining 28 percent since the end of the Cold War, a senior military official said Tuesday.

Only 65 percent of the force's combat units were considered operating at the military's best levels of readiness in December and January, the official said on condition of anonymity. That means roughly 115 of its 329 combat units were not fully capable of performing their mission.

The rating is based on calculations of whether the units have the people, supplies, equipment and training to do their jobs — and it's been steadily declining for years.

The 65 percent rating early this year, for instance, compares with 95 percent readiness in 1989 and 76 percent at the end of 1998, the official said.

The official blamed budgets that didn't allow enough for spare parts and didn't offer service members salaries competitive in today's booming U.S. economy. That has meant a loss of pilots to the nation's commercial airlines and of other personnel to other civilian jobs.

``I think that all of us underestimated the amount of money you needed to keep the force going'' after the of post-Cold War drawdown in people, equipment and so on, he said.

The Air Force has been downsized by 40 percent.

And in one year, for example, only 81 percent of what was needed for spare parts was budgeted. ``That catches up with you,'' he said.

He also blamed the aging fleet of aircraft and increasing tempo of operations, naming the 1990-91 Gulf War, the bombing crusade two years ago to punish Iraq for not cooperating with U.N. weapons inspectors and last year's NATO-led war in Kosovo.

The rating had moved back up slightly since January, to 67 percent as of April 1, because the Air Force purposely cut back on some tasks and took the lull in activity to catch up on some training, put extra money towards restocking supplies and do maintenance.

Besides combat units, there are more than 2600 other units in the force, and those are considered at 81 percent readiness.

``We're hoping in 2000-2001 that our readiness is going to turn around,'' he said, because of salary increases approved last year and efforts to increase recruiting.
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