WASHINGTON — Warnings from defense officials and some experts are mounting and becoming more dire: The nation's military is being hobbled by budget cuts.
"You'd better hope we never have a war again," the House Armed Services Committee chairman, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., said of the decline in what the military calls its readiness.
So should Americans be worried?
A look at what the Pentagon means by "ready" and where things stand:
It's the armed forces' ability to get the job done, and it's based on the number of people, the equipment and the training needed to carry out assigned missions.
As an example, an Army brigade has a list of the things it would have to do in a full-level war, called its "mission essential task list." And a 4,500-member brigade is deemed ready when it has the right supplies and equipment, is in good working condition and pretty much has that full number of people, well-trained in their various specialties, to conduct its tasks.
Military units are rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the best, or fully ready. Typically, a unit freshly returned from a tour of duty would carry a 5 rating, since it's missing people because of casualties or because some are moving on to other jobs, and it's missing equipment that was battered or worn in the field and is in for repairs or must be replaced. A unit can be sent out in less-than-full ready status, but officials warn that would mean it could do less, take longer to do it, suffer more casualties, or all of the above.
THE U.S. MILITARY RATING NOW
Detailed information on that is classified secret so adversaries won't know exactly what they're up against. But because of ongoing budget fights, officials in recent weeks have given broad examples of readiness lapses in hopes of convincing Congress and the American people that cutbacks, particularly in training budgets, are creating a precarious situation.