Chorus of retired admirals and generals: 'make US forces battle-ready'

What do the admirals and generals of the "glory days" of the US military services --those who led American forces to victory in Europe and Asia in World War II -- think of US military readiness today?

Here, solicited by the Monitor, are the views of some of these retired officers, who still wrestle -- mostly unofficially -- with the defense problems facing their country:

Army Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway declares: "The nation's capability to conduct sustained, full-scale combat operations in a conventional war has been gravely eroded to the point of great danger. The responsible governmental authorities -- both the executive and the legislative -- have long known this, having been repeatedly warned by [the country's] uniformed military leaders and their civilian superiors, notably and most forcefully by . . . former Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger."

General Ridgway, as commander of the 82nd Airborne Division parachuted into Normandy with his men on D-day. He became commander of US and United Nations forces in Korea when President Truman removed Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1951 and was in command when the armistice was signed in April 1953.

Today's situation is grave, Ridgway believes, "since we could be involved in a major conventional war overseas in the near future, and we have neither the trained manpower nor the essential stocks of weapons and equipment." He claims, moreover, that US industry is incapable of producing the requisite materiel "in less than three to four years if it started today."

Lt. Gen. Ira Eaker, former commander of the 8th Air Force, whose B-17s pounded Germany from bases in england, believes that the first priority of the incoming Reagan administration should be to "restore our forces we now have in the highest possible state of capability."

General Eaker, who was a foreceful proponent of daylight precision bombings, contends that the administration should then launch a five-year program "of regaining parity in strategic forces" with the Soviet Union. "This will require the expenditure of 5 to 7 percent more annually than the Russians have been spending annually on weapons and manpower in order to gain their present superiority," he says.

The cost? About $20 billion to $25 billion each year for the next five years , he asserts.

Air force Gen. Curtis LeMay, who directed the B-29 bombing of Japan in 1944- 45 and led the Strategic Air commands (SAC) in the 1950s, concurs. "It seems to me that we must give the highest priority to correcting the imbalance of our strategic forces." He would like to see rapid development and production of the MX missile and, until the much caunted "Stealth" bomber is introduced, production of the B-1.

"Withourt a major effort in strategic offensive force modernization, our country is destined to remain militarily No. 2," he declares. "If the consequences are clearly understood, I am confident the American people would be willing to support the increase in defense spending necessary to regain the strategic balance."

General LeMay believes the B-u is needed not only to replace the aging B-5s, but also to augment them because he foresees a tactical role for the planes "in case of trouble in the Middle East or Africa due to our lack of bases in that area."

He also declares that the tast of attracting and retaining "capable men and women in the service of their country is of the utmost importance." Noting that the military has just received an 11.7 percent pay raise, he observes that "in the time between that and the previous raise, the inflation was about 20 percent , [so that's] a further slide in their standard of living."

Army Lt. Gen. James Gavin, who led airborne troops in World War II and succeeded Ridgway as commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, says he doubts the Air Force needs the B-1 or "another super bomber." As for the MX, he feels that its proposed deployment, "taking over such a vast land area, spending so many billion sof dollars, playing a roulette kind of game with the Soviets, raises many questions in my mind."

General Gavin, who served as US ambassador to France in the Kennedy administration and was president and then board chairman of the prestigious research and development firm of Arthur D. Little Inc., until he retired in 1977 , says that when involved in Pentagon research and development he had hoped "that we would be able to keep our missiles mobile and, in doing so, construct them to such specifications that they could be taken in and out of the highway and railroad tunnels in the Rockies."

If he has his doubts about the B-1 and MX, Gavin also has his reservations about the Joint Chiefs of Staff, claiming that the institution's "two-hat system ," whereby the chiefs are also heads of their respective services, "just about makes it impossible for the president or secretary of defense to get the advice he needs in making decisions."

Adm. Arleigh Bruke, one of the most gifted destroyer commanders of World War II and a former chief of naval operations, is equally unhappy with the office of secretary of defense, which, he says, has grown into a "huge bureaucracy" in the last 20 years "with direct and detailed control of many military functions" and the power to make "final decisions on nearly all other matters of military importance."

In Admiral Burke's opinion, the views of the Defense Department "do not usually represent the unadulterated views of the military services and sometimes reflect, domestic political considerations which should not have overriding influence on the determination of strategy."

The admiral claims that the centralization of authority and detailed control of the armed services by the Department of Defense has contributed to the decline of US military power. "It will take a long time and much effort to decentralize these functions, which should be returned to the services," he says. "But if we are to develop and maintain effective military services, the services eventually will have to have more voice in the development of the equipment they will need to carry out their missions."

Admiral Burke was joined by other distinguished veterans approached by the Monitor in voicing concern over the state of the Navy. Burke says it is drastically short of ships and aircraft, lacks sufficient weapons systems, and could not wage sustained action with its present level of munitions. If such deficiencies are not corrected, he asserts, "the United States will be severely restricted in the national strategy it can carry out."

Adds Gavin: "I think the Navy deserves high priority in getting itself in good war-ready condition."

Lt. Gen James Doolittle, who led a daring bombing mission on Japan from the aircraft carrier Hornet in 1942, says the best way for the US to "avoid war, prosper, and still maintain its freedom" is for the country to become and remain militarily, economically, and morally strong. "I sincerely hope that President-elect Reagan and a conservative Congress, together with an enlightened electorate, will bring this about," he adds.

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